Facing the Pandemic
After more than 9 months following our first introduction to COVID-19, the full consequences for our organizations, economy, and society remain unclear. Perhaps more than ever, we all should realize we need hyper-focused leadership.
There is no denying the world has changed. Every day, we face new and unique challenges. You must ask yourself, What does it take to be an effective leader in this crisis? Remember, novelist James Lane Allen said, “Adversity does not build character, it reveals it.”1
Unfortunately, there is no manual for leaders on how to handle challenges during a pandemic. We all face varying difficulties on many fronts (e.g., self, family, employees, colleagues, customers, partners). This is not the first time that law enforcement leaders have seen unique challenges, and it surely will not be the last, but it begs the question, What should you do as a leader during these tumultuous times? Included are some reminders or suggestions on what we can do better.
Remain Informed and Unbiased
Today’s media may prove that a simple headline can be interpreted many ways. It can be easy to get absorbed with watching television or browsing social media. You should go beyond using the often-overly dramatic 24-hour news channels as your sole source of information. Branch out and use other known reliable sources. This could help grow your perspective and help you avoid projecting the drama onto others. Conduct research and educate yourself to become better spoken and well-versed.
Remember, things change constantly and frequently. What might be of concern today likely may differ from that of yesterday and, surely, that of a few months ago. Be flexible, adaptive, informed, and willing to make those difficult decisions. This can help you make better choices not only for your organization but for yourself as well. Your knowledge will help you remain calm but not invisible. You will project confidence that you can help everyone get through this successfully with a minimum amount of anguish.
Next, prioritize everything that is important. Keeping your employees safe and healthy ought to be high on that list. Refer to your previously established procedures and protocols and be willing to tweak them as necessary. If your organization has never had or considered having a robust work-from-home program, maybe now is the time to revisit that option. What needs to occur for that to happen? Can it happen? How will your employees remain engaged, informed, or useful while working remotely? How often will you meet with them virtually?
Keeping people safe and mentally healthy should be your priority, and allowing them to work from home is one option to consider. Be wary that after this pandemic has passed, those employees may ask to work from home more permanently, and you will owe them an answer, especially if they were productive while teleworking.
Rely on Your Team
We all work in teams, whether that includes our family, coworkers, or community. If we want to accomplish anything significant, we must not try alone. Communicating with your team only bolsters your plans, priorities, and contingencies. Asking how they and their families are doing and offering assistance to them will help ensure emotional intelligence and foster a cohesive bond that will last beyond the pandemic.
Communication nearly always is a problem, especially in larger organizations. Nothing is worse than a leader who fades away during difficult times. The ability to comfortably discuss personal concerns and official business always is critical, but especially during a national crisis like a pandemic. The more layers there are, the less likely a solid communications plan exists. Leaders always need to communicate accurately, honestly, and with credibility and optimism. You must remain realistic and positive.
Teleworking will force new ways to communicate. Telephone, email, text, and a handful of new electronic tools become essential when your employees work remotely. You must remain vigilant and perhaps even overcommunicate to ensure you remain visible by establishing some regularity with your employees. Perhaps consider a short weekly virtual group meeting to help people focus on their expectations and what they can control. Be prudent when you communicate, and avoid overdoing it by having a meeting or check-in “just because.”
“...as long as you remain true to the basic tenents of what you already know about leadership, your organization and its employees will continue to thrive well beyond any crisis.”
Be unified in your communication. It never is good if your message contradicts the one from middle managers. You should broadcast the same message with confidence, compassion, and optimism. Focus on whatever is most essential for your organization, as well as how to keep safe and healthy and work together, to ensure that everyone is focused on what is critical to the mission.
Leaders never should forget why people trust and follow them. Continue to create calm and focus and remember people often are averse to change and crave what is familiar. This is not an ideal time to change your leadership style. Remember the basics. Be honest and do not hide bad news. Be comfortable saying you do not have the answer right now while remaining mindful of why your people are asking the question.
In the end, remember we all are only humans—you can feel the stress just like everyone else. In fact, sometimes, you may not even realize it. Take the time to reflect and make sure you are prepared before helping others—similarly, on an airplane you are instructed to put your mask on first. Stay balanced, exercise, eat a proper diet, and make time for people and things important to you Then, encourage others to do the same. People are counting on your leadership. You cannot lead people well if you are not well yourself.
Encourage others to be aware of their own feelings. Show empathy for their concerns, regardless of how outrageous they may seem. Remind people of their past accomplishments and point out their capabilities. Compassion is extremely important at this time. We may rise to the occasion when we have a good team around us, but many people who depend on us are not necessarily that resilient. In a time of crisis, compassion is a very important manifestation of leadership.
The effects of this pandemic will linger for a long time, and your employees will remember how you treated them. You want them to believe that their boss genuinely cares about them and their family. It is important that you instill confidence in those people.
Although there may not be anything written in a leadership manual on best practices during a pandemic, as long as you remain true to the basic tenents you already know about leadership, your organization and its employees will continue to thrive well beyond any crisis. Being a good leader versus being a great leader can boil down to something as simple as going back to basics—that is, reverting to what you already know.
Supervisory Special Agent Glen Bartolomei, an instructor in the Leadership Education Unit at the FBI Academy, prepared this Leadership Spotlight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 “James Allen Quotes and Sayings,” Inspiring Quotes, accessed February 23, 2021, https://www.inspiringquotes.us/author/1849-james-lane-allen.
"This is not the first time that law enforcement leaders have seen unique challenges, and it surely will not be the last...."