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  • Trine Strategies

Employee Leadership and COVID-19

All employees have the ability -- and responsibility -- to lead during a crisis

By now, you’ve likely “social distanced” yourself from friends and family, stocked up on essential products like milk and toilet paper, and updated your Netflix watchlist. You’ve prepared as best you can and are ready to bunker down and ride out the Coronavirus quarantine. But have you taken the same approach with your job?

It’s only natural to look to our leaders during a time like this, but the truth is that they need your help as much as you need theirs. All employees, no matter what position or role within an organization, can help lead during a crisis. If you can provide thoughtful, reasoned advice during difficult situations, you’ll get an instant credibility boost, and your senior leaders will come to rely on your counsel long after this crisis has passed.

Here are three tips to help you get started.

Make a list, make a plan, and most importantly, take a breath – Before you start working, take a (metaphorical or literal) breath. It’s easy to get overwhelmed about what “needs to get done,” and just start churning away on some task. But it’s infinitely more important – and productive – for you to take stock of your situation and make a thoughtful approach to your workload. Make a list of the following:

· Daily tasks/responsibilities

· Upcoming events/projects you have planned

· Looming deadlines

· Outstanding/upcoming expenses and/or budget pressures

· Key audiences (i.e. people you interact with on a daily, weekly or monthly basis)

After you’ve got your list, it’s time to reprioritize. Identify the most crucial items that are directly tied to helping your organization weather this storm in the near-term and in returning to normalcy in the future. That includes reaching out to your key audiences, determining which deadlines can be pushed, and deciding which expenses need to be paid now. Starting with a list will slow you down and force you to decide what is actually important. Too often during a crisis, employees get caught up in the immediate rush of work and don’t look farther ahead until it’s too late.

Be proactive and know why, how and what you’re doing – If you’ve made a list and reprioritized, you’re ready to get to work. But before you do, it’s best to get a quick (virtual) meeting with your supervisor or senior leader to make sure you’re aligned. As long as you can explain what you’re doing, how you’re doing it and why you’re doing it, you’re in good shape. Getting buy-in from your leader is critically important as he/she may have other priorities that you’re not aware of or you may have identified a priority that they did not previously know. Communicating proactively shows that you’ve got your situation handled and that they don’t have to worry about you. It builds your credibility and tells your leader that they can focus their time elsewhere.

Speak the language and be a translator – Employees and executives view problems from vastly different perspectives. Employees are often down in the weeds while leaders are looking at a 30,000-foot view. When you’re in the middle of a crisis, that gap is magnified and there’s little time for leaders to learn your terminology and all the complex rules that govern your area of expertise. If you want to lead during a crisis, it’s your responsibility to speak to executives in their language, not yours. There will be limited time to get their attention, so you need to talk about things they care about. You’re the expert in your field. Own that role and reassure your leaders that you’ve got your area under control. If you need something from them, make sure to ask in terms they understand. Also be available to translate for your co-workers or external audiences who are using insider jargon. If you speak in terms your leaders understand, you’ll soon find yourself being asked to share your perspective on critical decisions.

A crisis, by definition, is a difficult situation to manage. But it’s also an opportunity for you to step up and take on a leadership role to help both your leaders and your organization weather the storm. This crisis will pass, and a new one will arrive someday in the future. If you’re following the above steps, the next time there’s a crisis, don’t be surprised if your co-worker, your boss or even your CEO turns to you and asks, “What should we do?”

The best part is that you’ll have an answer.

If your organization (or someone you know) needs help jumpstarting your crisis response, contact me at

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