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  • Leading in the face of catastrophe.

The office is palpable with a taste of dread. Something’s off. The energy is different this morning. You can’t place your finger on it, but it’s there. The glances as you pass others in the hallway are ones of fear or sadness. Something’s up.

You reach your desk. The normal weekend banter doesn’t fill the background. It’s quiet! What the frack is going on? You can’t log in fast enough and then there it is. Shit. The CEO has sent an email.

At the end of the day, the casualties are real. You’ve lost friends and colleagues. It’s bloody. Those still standing have wounds. Do I trust this company? Do I trust the leadership? Do I want to stay and fight alongside those left? Am I next? Is my resume up to date? Where is my resume? That trail of questions can take you to a dark place.

If you’re a leader, there’s another layer of questions. Do I agree? Can I lead in the face of this loss? Who’s on my team? Do I have a team? Where do we go from here?

There’s still work that needs to go out today, tomorrow, this week. How will I rally to keep going? How will I rally my team to keep going?

There’s always fallout

How do we lead in such a situation? I honestly don’t think there’s a right way. I think it’s done from a place of compassion and understanding. I think it’s often our job to keep the bigger picture in mind. “Today sucks,” “this week will suck,” yet as a leader we hold the baton for the road forward. We lead. We rally the troops. Often it’s this very situation that can forge your team together.

Transparency is a good rule of thumb. People are already full of question, speculations and rumors fly—if possible, eliminate them with transparency. Provide understanding for what happened and why. Bring clarity to the situation, honestly, even if it’s brutal.

Listen. and respond. There’s an incredible opportunity to listen during an event like this. They We are exposed and vulnerable and are seeking clarity. Listen as they process. And respond as necessary. Respond with compassion. Respond with a thick skin.

Give people a way forward. I think when layoffs happen, we want to know it’s going to get better. We want to know there is a plan. We want to know that someone is in charge. There are no guarantees. We all know this. But it is at this very point that everyone is making a decision in some fashion to the question, “Do I want to stay?” If you can provide a new vision in light of these present realities, you may solidify their commitment.

The work When the shit hits the fan, sometimes a simple task is exactly what we need. I find that I when I really need to process something—like when I’m upset—I find myself cleaning. It’s hands on and practical and focused. Sometimes, we can find renew purposed in the very work before us.

I miss my friends and colleagues. Layoffs do suck. They tear at a company’s culture and community. It’s our response as leaders—by title or not—that determines how infected that wound will get.

Nicola Jones