Leading in Times of Crisis

Show your leadership strength by helping your employees--and your company--survive stressful times.

By Rod Walsh

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Q:Ever since the September 11 terrorist attacks, it seems myemployees have gone into a funk, even though we are miles from NewYork and Washington, DC. Their minds no longer seem to be on theirwork. We won't survive unless they start to focus once again.What can I do?

A: Youare describing a problem that is showing up in small and largebusinesses across America. Even though you are far from New Yorkand DC, it appears the terrorists were able to roam the country atwill. Our sense of security has been assaulted. We receive about1,000 letters and e-mails a week and have yet to see a change inmood since that sad and tragic day.

If you will recall last year's presidential election, withina few days we all received e-mail jokes and cartoons about theresults, the candidates and even the voters. While it was certainlyserious business, the people put a humorous spin on it. Wedon't expect to begin receiving sick jokes about this event.The tone has remained constant--lots of prayers and patrioticthemes. Yet, in spite of this, we all have work to do.

May we respectfully suggest you take a look at yourself first?Employees often reflect the boss. And, if you have allowed adepressed demeanor to infiltrate your behavior, your employees will"feel" free to mimic you. But, whether or not your publicface has changed, this problem will not go away overnight. Afterall, elected and appointed officials are persistently telling usthis will be a long fight, more people will perish and furtherattacks are possible. So you're right to be concerned, and webelieve you can take steps to get your employees, and yourself,back on track.

Next Step
Nothing could have prepared us for the horror of September11, but now is the time to think about your ability as a businessowner to handle a crisis. Get help with The Essential Guide to Managing CorporateCrises: A Step-By-Step Handbook for Surviving MajorCatastrophes by Ian I. Mitroff, Christine M. Pearson and L.Katherine Harrington.

The one thing you don't want to do at this time, less sothan ever, is hassle your employees. Like all of us, they areexperiencing a lot of fear. The attack was so devastating, socomplete, so unexpected and implemented so"professionally," your employees are deeply worried aboutwhat follows. They are wondering if the government that may havefailed them on September 11 can protect them and their families inthe future. They are also aware that even before this terribleattack, business was slowing down and layoffs were increasing. Theyhave many negative events striking at them every day. Youremployees will not take kindly to remarks from you that theyaren't working hard enough. Like every other employer inAmerica, especially business owners like you, you must be the bestleader you possibly can be. Your employees will be looking for acalming voice at work. You must be part boss, parent, cleric andshrink; you will need nerves of steel and a heart of gold--sowhat's new.

And, as we said before, your first step is to look at yourself.Make sure you don't bring your fears to work. While youdon't have to be the life of the party, you have to reassureyour employees that, in the larger scheme of things, current eventsare a bump in the road--painful to be sure, but ones that will beovercome as surely as night follows day. Keep your door open toyour employees. Be liberal with time off. Let them know you arethere to talk with them anytime--give them a way to reach you atnight and on weekends. Encourage them, in a positive manner, not to"work hard," but to do the best work they can. You arecounting on them, as are their fellow employees, their families andyour customers--indeed, the entire country is counting on oneanother. To the extent that you can afford it, make counselingavailable. If you are not able to provide one-on-one therapy,perhaps you can sponsor a group. Remind them frequently that youlove them like family and are there for them.

As your employees regain their confidence in our ability toovercome that horrific day, their work habits will return tonormal, and remembering that you never wavered in your support forthem will pay dividends you can't imagine today.

Rod Walsh and Dan Carrison are the founding partners of SemperFi Consulting in Sherman Oaks, California and the authors of Semper Fi: Business Leadership the Marine CorpsWay.

The opinions expressed in this column are thoseof the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended tobe general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areasor circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consultingan appropriate expert, such as an attorney oraccountant.

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