July 2020

Crisis Leadership in Combatting Covid-19 At the University of South Carolina

by Robert L. Caslen, Jr.

Leaders are in the spotlight during a crisis. People want to retain hope, and hope comes from the confidence of knowing the direction the institution is moving is sound, and that they believe that the leadership will successfully move it through the maze of challenges and issues.

In order to gain hope, members must trust the leadership, and trust is a function of being competent, having incredible character, and knowing that the people's interests are paramount to the leader's. So, how does the leader create trust in the middle of a crisis?

To demonstrate competence, the leader must lead decisively. Effective solutions are often not from incrementalism, but of very bold and decisive acts. The decisions are a result of understanding the situation and the environment, understanding where risk exists and the means to mitigate it, to identify where risk is unacceptable, and to move boldly to make important decisions where risk has to be accepted, but not to a point where it is reckless.

To learn this art of decision making and to balance risk with costs, the leader must confront hard truths and be honest with oneself. Being honest helps leaders get to the root of problems and properly address these tough issues. The leader must act carefully but quickly. Using the multi-functional team, one must weigh all options and create the way forward. Time is usually critical, so it is important to move with a purpose. Delays can be perceived as incompetence or indifference, and if that occurs, it can exacerbate a crisis.

Without a doubt, challenges and setbacks will occur once the action plan has begun. Often critics and competitors take advantage of an organization when it is down. It is natural for a leader to feel doubt and fear as problems pile up. But continually assess your planning assumptions, continually understand where you are with the plan, recognize when decisions need to be made, and make them.

To learn more about crisis leadership and Caslen's keys to success, please be sure to download the full whitepaper.