Many marketing leaders reading this will have (justifiably) developed a sense of optimism over recent weeks as life begins to creep back to normal. But COVID-related challenges are only one type of headwind that marketing leaders and their teams face at any given point in a business’s lifecycle. Every company routinely deals with crises. Some crises are self-inflicted by leadership, others are a result of prevailing economic conditions, and others yet can be chalked up to simple “bad luck.” But regardless of the cause of a crisis, our actions as leaders both inside and outside of the marketing/communications department will determine our success.
Personally, I’ve found that certain “wartime leadership” principles are incredibly helpful in guiding a brand or team through all types of crises. My hope is that, even if you don’t find yourself “in wartime” at your organization right now, that this email might serve you well in the future.
Acknowledge that you’re actually “at war.” We all know that ignoring any given challenge doesn’t make the problem go away, yet many of us find ourselves tempted to continue on in a state of denial. Progressing under the guise of ignorance will cause a team to lose confidence in leadership. Conversely, drawing attention to challenges early allows your team to buy in and sets companies up for success in the long haul.
Be transparent with your team. Trust me, if you see a problem or crisis that must be dealt with, so does your team. A lack of transparency is even more dangerous as your team is left to draw their own conclusions about what’s going on. “Wartime leadership” calls for unparalleled transparency from leaders in order to secure team buy-in on the plan to overcome the team’s challenges. Increased transparency also reduces the risk of your team dealing in misinformation and half-truths that could serve as a distraction while disrupting your team’s progress.
Shoot your sacred cows. If you find yourself “at war”, it’s not the time for tradition or simply doing things the same way because that’s how you always did them. After all, those traditions likely contributed to the predicament that your team finds itself in. Openness to new ideas and newfound agility from even the least flexible of teams and their leaders during “wartime” is a key factor in sustained success.
Identify your weak spots. Leaders and their teams have to be cognizant about what’s working and, much more importantly, what’s not. Revisiting an internal SWOT analysis is a good first step and taking action to shore up weaknesses related to the crisis is critical to overcoming any type of crisis.
Lead from the front. Leaders need to lead by example and dive in beyond their job descriptions to help their teams solve problems quickly in order to right the ship in times of crisis. Delegating with a blind eye or taking a “not my department” approach is a dangerous model that sets teams up for failure and can take situations from bad to worse in a hurry. On the flip side, if you find new ways to serve and support your team in times of crisis they’ll never forget it.