“Say/Do/Think/Feel: Leading In Crisis” by Nick Noyes, Partner, Insight Experience

Say what you will about the current crisis, it is clearly a crucible time for leaders. Not all leadership moments are created equal, and this one is huge. 

For most of us there has not been a more important time in our leadership lives. This is both good and bad news: it means the consequences of your leadership now will most likely have outsized impact in the future. How we each behave as leaders in these moments of fear and uncertainty, when our most basic human instincts crowd in, will be remembered long after the crisis is past. Like it or not, this will be part of your leadership legacy, so consider carefully the choices you make.       

One way to do this is to step back and be conscious of the most basic things you do as a leader in fact, the most basic things we all do as human beings. In design thinking, a tool that is often used to better understand the perspective and true needs of users is the Empathy Map. The Empathy Map looks at four dimensions of a user’s experience: Say/Do/Think/Feel. We hear what they say; we watch what they do; we ask or infer what they think and feel. As leaders in the current crisis, we can use this tool to help us gain insight not just for our customers but for how those we lead are truly faring.

But what about taking this one step further, and using the four questions as a diagnostic tool for yourself as a crucible leader? While not the design intent of the Empathy Map, these reflective questions can help ensure you make decisions with self-awareness and perspective. Because this is about you as a leader, let’s move from the “inside out”:

What are you Feeling?

As emotional intelligence (EQ) tells us, we cannot help to manage the emotions of others until we understand and manage our own. If you are authentic, which you should be, how you are feeling now as a leader will leak through anything you say or do. You must come to terms with this and be prepared to share your emotions appropriately with others. Have you taken time to actually reflect honestly on how you’re feeling? It will make you more human and build trust.    

What are you Thinking?

This can be more challenging, as it requires actually thinking about your thinking, and being aware of where your brain is taking you. This is the essence of Strategic Thinking, and now is a critical time to assess your thinking and possibly reframe. 

Your people in times of disruption and uncertainty want desperately to know what you’re thinking: uncertainty breeds fear and can lead to distrust. Reflect on your own thinking, and then engage them in theirs. While you may not have answers, making your thinking clear and transparent will go a long way.     

What are you Doing?

While many of us are currently isolated and working remotely, what we are actually doing may be less visible to others, but that is temporary (and most of us are electronically tethered, Zoomed and Slacked anyway). That does not make it any less important, and certainly your people are watching. Consider how you are spending your time: how much alone in thinking and reflection? How much with others, formally and informally? How much in communication? Listening? Checking in at a human level? Keep track this week and check it out.   

What are you Saying?

This is what people are of course most acutely tuning in to: are layoffs coming? Where do things stand now? What about the future? Is what you are saying consistent with what with what they are seeing and experiencing? There are four dimensions to consider as you communicate with stakeholders in your business. 

These may be some of the most important and impactful communications of your career, so you want to consider them carefully. But do this last, after you have reflected on what you’re feeling, thinking, and doing. Consistency and transparency among these elements is key to your credibility and to building trust.  

Remember this: on the far side of this crisis — and there WILL be a far side — how you showed up in these crucible moments will have done either profound good or profound damage to your leadership credibility. People will never forget how you are when the chips are down, and that is your profound opportunity.

About the Author

For over 15 years, Insight Experience has been delivering unique, simulation-based learning experiences that accelerate leadership development and strategy execution. For companies worldwide, across a range of industries, our solutions help connect leadership to business results. Nick Noyes, Partner, has over 20 years of experience working with clients on education and strategic change initiatives.

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