Leadership is tested when disaster strikes. Sometimes those in charge handle things well. Other times it feels like folly.
What Leaders Face
When disaster strikes, a leader might wish to close the door, put their head down, and focus on getting things done. They could be grieving themselves because the tragedy has impacted them, the business, or family members.
Leaders should expect they won’t be immune from bad things happening to them or their organization. They can proactively appoint a key person to handle crises, assemble a cross-functional rapid response team, and even plan scenario training.
How Leaders Can Respond
There are some other steps any leader can take when disaster hits.
- Figure out what is happening. This might seem obvious but when things are chaotic it’s easy to lose perspective. Give your team some time to formulate their thoughts and potential strategies before rushing to intervene.
- Act in a timely way. Moving too quickly can seem like panic and actually makes people feel less secure. Being deliberate doesn’t mean you delay. Thoughtful execution can prove more effective than rushing to create a response.
- Address size and scope. No leader wants to alarm people. A call to arms without any sense of how serious the threat might be is irresponsible. If the task will be hard, or the costs will be high, everyone deserves to know what is at stake.
- Control the response. Leaders can’t control the disaster but they do have control over their response to it. Taking charge, accepting responsibility, and pooling resources are steps leaders can take to show they are serious.
Leaders must resist the temptation to offer a quick fix. Showing up with hugs or comforting words is fine, but plans and execution are also needed. Hope must be balanced by realism.
The Leader’s Role in a Crisis
Perhaps the most important role a leader plays when disaster strikes is providing perspective. We can all get too close to the action for our own good. A 30,000-foot view is often valuable when everything is a mess.
Managing expectations is a critical skill all leaders need in a crisis.
Disasters may require a leader to adjust his or her leadership approach. Your courage and resolve will be tested. Being humble can help you stay calm and encourage you to listen to those around you. Being patient, even under pressure will be worth it.
This is the kind of leadership I hope to see when disaster strikes.
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