How You Can Lead Well in A Crisis
Updated: Aug 26
One of the negative aspects of being a good leader in times of crisis is that you have no short-term time to prepare. That time has passed and now you find yourself in the midst of something that is out of your control and sometimes even difficult to process. In most cases, there is no manual on the shelf for you to pull and study on how to be an effective leader in your current crisis. There can be protocols in place to prevent certain crises and then there are others, such as the one we are experiencing now, in which there may be no effective pre-planning process.
Leaders have to deal with each new crisis in its own way, with its own unique set of problems and will probably require a new and different approach from any used before. Another aspect of a crisis is that often, you have no idea how long it might last or when it will blow over. Will it be two days or two years? In the midst of crisis, everything is fluid and you must deal with the details as they whirl toward you. While this in no way an exhaustive list for the leader in crisis, it’s a quick reference guide of what I believe to be some of the most important points to keep in mind for the leader dealing with a crisis.
1. Leading in crisis is different than leading in normal times
Many leaders have had to change the way they do things on a daily basis. Using online communications, utilizing working remotely capabilities and changing business conditions are just a few of the things that have changed your daily routine. I know that is probably doesn’t seem like it now, but these times may be your biggest learning opportunities in your lifetime. The crisis of 9/11 was one of the greatest learning opportunities of my management career, even though I didn’t realize it at the time. There are still things in place at my previous company, some 19 years later, that were modified and changed during the events of 9/11.
2. Recognize and accept your feelings and the feelings of others around you
People are fighting fear right now. Fear of this horrible virus. Fear for their loved ones, especially elderly loved ones. Fear for their jobs. Fear of what is happening to the economy. You need to acknowledge your own humanity. You have feelings and emotions and acknowledging those is not a bad thing or a weakness. You can’t fight feelings and once you acknowledge them, you can begin to regulate them more effectively.
3. People need clarity
You must be able to explain clearly to the people you lead what is exactly going on as well as you know it and understand it. What do you know that you can communicate with clarity?
4. People need steady emotions
It’s your job as a leader to be a catalyst for stability, especially in the emotional area. Emotions like fear create disruption and they disintegrate productivity, security, and stability. You are the antidote for this as you present yourself as the calm in the storm. As you fluctuate, others that follow you will fluctuate as well.
5. People need to feel secure
They need to feel like things are going to be ok. They need to be reminded that this too shall pass. We need to let them know that we are currently experiencing some significant turbulence, but everything is going to turn out fine.
6. Collaborate as much as you can
Ask yourself: Whose help and advice do I need right now? It is never a weakness to ask for help and advice, it shows wisdom and strength. Strong leaders are very transparent and open about what they need from others and it’s a powerful tactic that energizes them as well. People need to be needed and contribute.
7. Coordinate with your team and others
It’s comforting to us when we can coordinate strength by involving people around us. Having that inner circle is invaluable. We can also coordinate our resources; we can coordinate our finances and we can coordinate our knowledge as well.
8. You need to give up your turf issues
During a crisis, people can tend to isolate and silo themselves and their teams off. As always, this comes as an expense to the whole organization. During a crisis, you need to keep an eye on who may be getting territorial and deal with it as necessary.
9. Deal with the crisis at hand
There will be a time to do some analysis after the fact about how this affected things overall but keep your eye on the ball for now. Plan and implement based on what is happening now as well as you know it to be. If you go into the hospital with a broken arm, you need that dealt with. Not how you broke it or how you can keep from doing that again, just take care of the bone break at hand for now.
10. Promote flexibility
We may have to do several things differently now than we have in the past. Push the fact that in this time, flexibility is highly valued. Whether or not this is a core value of your organization, during times of crisis, it is tremendously important to remain very flexible to changing plans, procedures, and conditions.
11. We have to be fluid
Things are different today than they were just less than a month ago. Recognize change has rapidly increased and we have to be willing to accept it for now. This is how we need to adjust ourselves in order to be in alignment with the fluid events.
12. Everyone needs inspirational leadership
Leadership that will not bring people down, but inspiration that triggers others’ inspiration. Don’t deny the current realities as you understand them but find ways to tap into the inspiration of others as an energy resource to propel us through the mess.
For more resources, sign up for Tony’s Monday Morning Coaching Memo.