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Franco Marini

Let’s face it: The world has changed. The COVID-19 pandemic is challenging us in unimaginable ways and business leaders are no exception. What does it take to be an effective leader in the current crisis? Here are my top seven tips: 

Tip #1: Hone your communication skills. It is essential to deliver clear and effective communications, especially in a time of unknowns and crisis. When individuals are under extreme stress or anxiety, the brain can lose up to 80% of its normal function. When you communicate, keep things simple and clear. Limit your communications to two or three main points at a time and use visuals aids whenever possible.

Tip #2: Be emotionally intelligent. Focus on what can be controlled, using data and facts. Encourage others to be aware of and name their feelings, and show empathy for their concerns, regardless of how outrageous they may seem. Be flexible and innovative, and continually ask questions that create possibilities. Finally, be optimistic. Remind people of their past accomplishments and point out their capabilities.

Tip #3: Remember that it’s a VUCA world. During times of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity (VUCA), leaders must take charge, be compassionate and understand how people might react. It is crucial for leaders to be:

  • transparent – tell the truth as you know it
  • calm – your employees are watching your actions and non-verbal cues
  • decisive – give specific directions (remember the 80 percent rule above)
  • confident – creating trust is fundamental at these times
  • mindful – remain conscious and aware of the present moment; don’t get lost in the chaos

Tip #4: Model the way. Take good care of yourself and let others know that you are doing so. Set an example by aligning actions and shared values. Manage your feelings and impart your techniques for self-care.

Tip #5: Create a vision that everyone can buy into. When the future is unknown, consider the possibilities with those around you. Focus on shared aspirations and explore them together. Collaborate to develop a plan that addresses organizational priorities one at a time.

Tip #6: Take small steps. With an uncertain future and chaos seeming to loom around every corner, create goals that are readily attainable. Achieving even very simple goals can make you feel successful and bring great satisfaction to you and others. For instance, you might tell yourself, “On my next phone call, I will acknowledge the person with whom I am speaking so that she feels valued.” Or, “When I write my next email, I will be sure to let people know that I trust their decisions.”

Tip #7: Face your fears with knowledge and awareness. The neuroscience of what happens in the human brain when you act from a place of fear and anxiety is clear: Your focus is on survival —fight, freeze or flight. This is called the amygdala hijack and the best way to manage it is to prevent it from happening. Spend time with your employees explaining the function of the brain during tense situations and develop effective strategies to avoid the amygdala hijack together. When dealing with someone who is under extreme stress, encourage them to share how they feel and support them in doing things like rhythmic breathing.

Franco Marini is an adjunct professor at the Daniels College of Business and he works with the University of Denver on several educational experiential projects. He is the owner and director of Peak Empowerment, an organization committed to empowering individuals and organizations through exciting programs, activities and unique group challenges. He also created and operates Global Journeys Inc., a travel-based company providing personal and professional growth through specialized travel offerings.


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