How to Lead in a Crisis - Higher Ground Consulting Group, LLC
November 18, 2017
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crisisWhat quality or attribute do you admire most in a leader when the “chips are down” and a crisis is looming or already at hand? Hurricane Harvey has been a grim reminder that leaders should always be prepared to manage in crisis mode. Natural disasters, civil unrest, economic downturns, mergers, or losing a key customer can quickly put your leadership to the test.

Many leaders facing a crisis like to close their door, put their head down, and focus on getting things done. But we all know you can’t tackle big problems alone. How do you get your team, community, or a nation inspired to act when the situation seems impossible?

Your natural approach to leadership might not serve you well during a crisis. Commanding leaders often show confidence and are adept at issuing directives. Their tough-mindedness can be useful in getting things done.

But a more inclusive approach might also be required, especially if people are feeling vulnerable or overwhelmed. Being able to demonstrates support for their needs and acknowledging fears can show empathy and concern for their well-being.

Here are a few simple reminders for leaders facing a crisis.

  • Don’t leave messaging to chance – Clarity is key during any crisis. People want to know the facts and how any changes will impact them. Repeat your main points often and pace yourself so the message can be absorbed and understood. Encourage questions and answer them truthfully, including admitting what you don’t know.
  • Maintain formal and informal connections – Use one-to-one conversations and casual settings to hear people’s concerns and reiterate your plans. Listen to the feedback people are offering and show a willingness to make changes based on how others see things.
  • Resist the temptation to hunker down – It takes emotional and physical energy to interact with people during a crisis. Your presence on the front lines can lower anxiety and demonstrate how you are trying to address problems and create solutions.

Leaders in crisis mode must resist the temptation to offer quick-fix assessments or minimize the hard work and difficult challenges being faced. It’s nice to show up and offer hugs, but plans and execution are also needed. Hope must be tempered by realism.

If you are leading through a crisis, show a willingness to adjust your leadership approach. Every situation will include some damage, require courage, and test your patience. Practicing humility will help you stay calm. It will encourage you to listen to the less powerful around you. It enables you to make the needs of others a priority.

That’s the kind of leadership I hope to see in any crisis.

Ken Byler

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