Leading Through a Crisis

Leading through a crises - The Leader's Digest

Recently, a client of mine had the proverbial ‘day from hell’ experience.

It was one of those days where every potential crisis that could have happened, actually did eventuate. And all in the space of eight hours.

The series of events that unfolded were so unlikely, it was almost comical.

His dalliance with crisis management also came hot off the heels of a much larger theme of crises – the recalls Fonterra dealt with in recent weeks.

I was struck by how calm my client was in leading through this crisis-fueled day.

It got me thinking about what is important to be aware of if you are ever faced with leading though a crisis.

Here are  6 simple tips for leading through crises situations, gleaned vicariously, from research, and my own experiences.

1. Face reality. As Bill George refers to in his book 7 Lessons for Leading in a Crisis “face reality – starting with yourself”.

This is not the time for sugar coating, glossing over issues or misplaced optimism. Although facing reality is a great leadership trait at all times, it becomes crucial in times of leading in crisis.  Be honest with yourself and others about what is really happening. Facing the truth may be painful, but it is absolutely necessary.

2. Be visible. And available. When things are going awry, people want to see their leaders out front, not behind closed doors. Or worse, wondering where you are. Work out who you need to be visible to and accessible to.

3. Model the behaviour you want others to show.  I wrote a blog post last year on the importance of being the change you wish to see in others. If you panic and get flustered, others will follow.

Conversely, if you react with the calmness of a swan, even though underneath (or beneath the water) you are paddling like crazy, this will have a flow on effect.  If I asked you who you would turn to in a personal crisis, I bet the person you think of is calm and pragmatic, not flustered and freaking out.

4. Connect. This applies as much to yourself as to those you lead.  This is not the time to go it alone or try and lead in isolation. Who gives you good advice and a sounding board when you are in the thick of it? Turn to them. Encourage your team to do the same.  Process and relationship should be at the top of your list of priorities.

5. Communicate, communicate, communicate.  You cannot overestimate the attention paid to communication during a crises.  It is imperative to know who should be communicating what to whom, and how. Enlist your PR representative immediately for advice in this area – or better still, draw up a crisis management plan in advance, so any potential crises can be mitigated strategically.

6. Opportunity. Although it may not seem important at the time, using the crisis as a catalyst for change is the silver lining. Often new strategies or processes can be resisted by organisations when things are going swimmingly. Hard times are a chance to get the things done that needed doing anyway.

Leading through a crisis reminds me of this quote I love…

“Never question the clouds, they’re only bringing the life-giving rain.”
― Amber Schamel, The Healer’s Touch

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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