Leaders get tested by crises, especially big ones such as what the world is facing now.
In the auto industry, we're seeing reactions that include shutting down or dramatically reducing operations and in other cases, special discounts for customers. Several manufacturers are pivoting their expertise and resources to helping produce medical equipment the country's health system desperately needs. Please read about their experiences on Pages 8 and 9.
It isn't yet clear which moves will be most effective in minimizing the economic damage to their companies. But to make the best decisions — or to recognize what isn't working and regroup — leaders need to be in touch with their emotions and not overtaken by them.
Daniel Goleman, author of the 1995 bestseller Emotional Intelligence, has studied leadership for decades and he talked with me last week about the COVID-19 pandemic and how auto bosses should approach this challenge.
First he broke it down into three layers: Leading yourself, leading others and understanding the situation forcing you to act — "right now that's the virus."
Leading yourself means both self-awareness and self-management. You have to recognize the emotions that come naturally when you learn, for instance, that an employee or customer contracted the coronavirus. Then it's a matter of staying calm and separating that emotional response from how you contemplate solutions. It's important for being able to take in information as well as how to process it.
"The more upset you are, the less clear you're thinking," Goleman said.
The second part — leading others — stems directly from leading yourself, he said. Experiments at Yale University found that groups are very responsive to their leaders' moods. If the leader has a positive attitude, people sense that and their performance goes up. If the boss is upset, the opposite happens.
"So if you're going to lead your people in this time of crisis, it's important that you start with yourself," he said.
From that solid basis, one can empathize with others — employees, customers, suppliers, vendors, investors — and maintain healthy, productive relationships, which will be needed during the crisis and afterward.
Beyond those layers, a successful leader has to understand the crisis at hand: the medical reality, the legal landscape, the shifting economics. That's how the leader and the team understand what to do and how urgently.
This pandemic crisis is unlike 9/11 or the global financial collapse. But these major shocks — just as with everyday IT failures or human errors — are opportunities for leaders to avoid chaos and steer people and organizations toward a more rewarding future.