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The Crisis-Conscious Leader—Time to Focus on Your People

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Elaine Ahumada, Beth Groves and Tracy E. Rickman
March 29, 2020

There are some practical rules that administrators should consider during these times of work disruption, especially during this time of a pandemic tied to Covid-19. Consider these moving forward, not just now but also in the future. We would like to provide these noted concepts to be able to get work accomplished through people while understanding that difficult times require honesty, with prudent and careful considerations for those that work in public administration. By continuing to build a staff that is eager, responsible and focused on the mission, the desired outcomes can be the best possible solutions to maintaining a workforce that feels appreciated while providing services essential to those being served.

Being a good listener should be #1 on the list of how best to focus on your people. Understanding their worries, the personalities of those you work with and how best to get the most from their work performance, should be the utmost priority in times of work force disruption. The best way for this to occur is to encourage employees, colleagues and staff to talk and for you to ask questions. Reaching out to others and your ability to provide active listening is a skill that administrators need, not only in times of crisis, but also in the everyday work environment. This skill alone can make a huge impact on the success of your efforts.

Be considerate in making your wishes known by providing requests and suggestions with kindness. Your employees and staff have the ability to get the job done. They most likely have the initiative and strive to meet organizational goals and objectives. Results can be enhanced when the administrator understands these concepts and provides direction via a request, not an order. An explanation or insight to a request or suggestion adds value to the need or reasoning. If the administrator shows confidence in others, people tend to perform in such a way that reflects this style of leadership, one in which all involved are equally challenged to meet the desired outcome. Being consistent in this area will also provide stability and reliability of all facets and effectiveness of the organization.

Be mindful of the unknown through affirmation of important work roles and relationships. People respond in a myriad of ways to uncertainty in crisis situations. Mindful leaders remind their staff and co-workers of their importance. Many employees may have been managing various life factors or stressors before the crisis occurred and may still be managing it during the crisis. They may need reassurance of their respective importance and purpose to the organization. Employees may be required to exercise heightened levels of flexibility and adaptability to learning to conduct business in alternative ways such as virtual meetings, increased isolation, autonomous decisionmaking and self-monitoring during crisis. Gentle reminders of each person’s value, their potential to acclimate and their ability to work together can serve as a catalyst for maintaining employee productivity, self-worth and organizational morale.

Set the tone and style for your people. This can be established in many ways. The need to keep subordinates informed and also providing a sense of direction is critical during work disruption and times of uncertainty. People need communication and administrators need feedback on many fronts. Giving people goals, something to achieve, an open and honest flow of ideas and communicating up and down the chain of command is important. The need to build up subordinates, colleagues, staff and stakeholders is important, as doubt and lack of information is your enemy. Constant communication will reduce anxiety, provide direction and enable employees to provide insight to issues, concerns or organizational needs. Asking subordinates for their input instills self-confidence, as well as enables them to strive for the best resolution to problems. Administrators should focus on delegation as this too provides others with a sense that you depend and rely on them for successful accomplishment of goals and objectives.

Administrators know we praise in public and reprove in private. During times of work disruption and other events that cause high anxiety in the workplace, such as a downsizing, a down turn in the economy and the most recent pandemic, administrators must be the coach and encourager. This is no time to have conflict within the organization. The need to provide services and render excellent customer support trumps any negative input or criticism that potentially can affect work performance. Avoid forceful demands, be positive and when a mistake is made, resolve it quickly.

Transparency and authenticity in communications and actions are paramount to successful organizations before and during crisis. Leaders who trust others can be trusted and leaders who demonstrate authentic and genuine care will also receive that from their employees. Employees need to know that their managers are making decisions that consider their best interests in terms of safety, workload and daily life concerns. This is a time where transactional skills are necessary. However, authentic, transformational leadership is what will motivate and reassure the people in order to keep services flowing. Crisis can be an opportune time for reflective practice and a test of one’s character. Will you pass the test as a crisis conscious leader?


Elaine Ahumada, D.P.A.
Beth Groves, D. P. A
Tracy E. Rickman, M.P.A

Authors are faculty or administrators at California Baptist University in Public Administration, located in Riverside, CA

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