It’s a well-known axiom that uncertainty breeds fear, and now is a time of great uncertainty in the world. The coronavirus is affecting not only physical health but the world’s psyche, and in turn creating ripple effects throughout the global economy. This can create fear and stress for your people, and it is an opportunity to step up with strong leadership.

How should business leaders lead in the face of a disrupted workforce and business environment?

First, it’s important to take a step back and fully assess the situation in which you find yourself, your employees, and your business – in the context of rapidly changing world events. Only from there can you make smart and deliberate decisions on how you choose to respond.

Here are six tips to keep in mind while leading through a time of dramatic change:

  1. Balance calm with action. In times like this, everyone looks to the leaders to see how they respond. It’s important to impart a sense of calm, employ a fact-based approach, and take decisive action where necessary.
  2. Employ the CIA principle. The Control/Influence/Acceptance change management tool outlines three ways to approach and respond to a stressful situation:
    Control:You may have little or no actual control of the circumstances or their outcome – certainly true in the case of a serious virus. Acknowledging what you can and cannot change is a good first step to developing a thoughtful response.
    Influence: Explore what part of the situation you can influence in a positive way. What can you change or modify that will make things easier for your company and your employees?
    Accept: Knowing when to accept things as they are can be a great release of mental and emotional energy. This is not about giving up or giving in. It means you have considered the options and can now make decisions you can act on.
  3. Recognize the journey. Change is different for each individual. As a leader, now is not the time for autocratic decisions. Recognize that each employee will go through a journey that may involve varying degrees of denial, fear, anxiety, confusion, and stress. As you travel through the uncertainty together, acknowledge these emotions, meet people where they are, and focus on providing empathetic guidance until you can come through the other side.
  4. Communicate again and again. During difficult times, there is no such thing as over-communicating with your employees. First, ensure they understand that their safety and security are your utmost concerns. Explain in detail what to expect about travel restrictions, meetings and conferences, and remote work arrangements. Meet frequently to encourage employee involvement, and to listen to concerns and expectations. Make your policies clear and your leadership visible.
  5. Support. Ensure your employees get the support they need, whether through EAPs, interactive training programs, or virtual chat rooms. Help them view it as an opportunity to learn new skills about adaptability and coping with uncertainty. Consider what they and their families may need to get through this challenging time. And, don’t forget to take care of yourself at the same time.
  6. Step outside your comfort zone. Unprecedented times call for stretching your leadership capabilities in new and unexpected ways. Be willing to get uncomfortable by shifting your mindset or behaviors so you can support your people to the fullest. Be extra patient and keep the big picture in mind. What opportunities and learning can come from this?

A challenge like the coronavirus is fast-moving and unpredictable. How you support others during this time will demonstrate your resilience, commitment, and ability to inspire and lead. There are no rewards without risks. This is the time for true leadership.