Prescription for Change

5 conversations to help your team navigate a crisis

by Taylor Hurst

As clinicians navigate the Covid-19 crisis, they're relying on compassionate, agile leadership more than ever—but the last couple of months have presented new-in-kind issues that can challenge even the most experienced clinical leaders.

We sat down with our leadership experts and asked them to share their reflections and guidance for leading through a crisis. Below, we've pulled together our lessons learned—and takeaways to share with your team. 

1. Pause and account for loss to better navigate grief amid a crisis—individually and as a team.

Leaders must identify and account for the direct and indirect losses their teammates have experienced to move forward through this crisis with compassion. Successful leaders create space to unpack the emotions their team is feeling without trying to "fix" the situation—and they take time to recognize their own feelings of loss.

Start the conversation: Create a space for your team to mourn losses—big and small. Consider asking: "What do you miss most?" or "What's been hardest for you since this all began?"

Read the article: 3 ways to help your team navigate grief in crisis

2. Lead with emotional intelligence to guide your team through immense change.

As a leader, you're probably experiencing a range of emotions as you try to make difficult decisions in your personal and work life. You can operate with emotional intelligence by keeping your purpose top of mind, checking in with your own emotions, leaning on your community for support, and showing empathy to your colleagues.

Start the conversation: "You are important to me and to what we're trying to accomplish. How are you feeling right now?"

Read the article: How to be an emotionally intelligent leader

3. During periods of relative 'calm,' pause and reorient your team for the long haul.

If your team has transitioned from a "sprint" to a "jog" in your Covid-19 response, take advantage of this crucial window of time to regroup and care for your own emotions while continuing to support your team. During the calmer moments, continue to share updates regularly and recognize your colleagues for their contributions. Try to resist the urge to revert to your team's pre-Covid workflow and priorities; rather, use this time to audit their responsibilities and take less-crucial tasks off of their plates.

Start the conversation: "Covid-19 has turned many health systems' processes upside-down. While we're here, it's important to ask: What should stay different?"

Read the article: If your Covid-19 'surge' has passed, what's next? Take these 4 steps.

4. Cultivate a culture of vulnerability on your team to rebuild trust and engagement.

Leaders who create space for their team to have conversations about how Covid-19 has affected them individually are better equipped to rebuild engagement and trust. Start the process by sharing your feelings with your coworkers and then encouraging your team to do the same—and making changes based on the feedback they give.

Start the conversation: When someone asks you, "How are you?" at the start of a meeting or in passing, resist the urge to reply with just, "I'm fine." Instead, share something you're feeling excited about that day or be honest that you're feeling worn out and a little disengaged.

Read the article: 3 steps to build a culture of vulnerability on your team

5. Define your team's purpose to ensure you're accomplishing what's most important to the people you serve right now.

A lot has changed because of Covid-19, and it's important to redefine your team's purpose accordingly. Check in with key stakeholders to see what their most pressing needs are, and then refocus your team on tasks that align with those needs. As you focus in on your purpose, remember to eliminate tasks that don't align with your immediate goals.

Start the conversation: Ask your team: "How do we contribute to our organization's purpose?" Ask your leadership team: "What do you appreciate about what we deliver? What do you find difficult and feel we should do differently?"

Read the article: How to define your team's purpose—and make it real in practice

Learn more: How to turn uncertainty to your advantage as a leader

Uncertainty (in your role, on your team, in the industry) can feel uncomfortable. But, paradoxically, certainty can be worse than uncertainty. Leaders who think they’ve figured out the future become blind to emerging possibilities and ignore evidence that doesn’t fit their predefined narrative.

So instead of fighting to reduce uncertainty, embrace it on three levels: as a leader, with your team, and across your organization.

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