Being in a leadership position means handling wild ups and sometimes harrowing downs. Regardless of size, sector, or success, all businesses face moments of reckoning that can range from an annoying inconvenience to impending implosion.
Crises, or times of intense difficulty when decisions need to be made quickly, are never going to be easy. Whether you’re facing a legal battle, cleaning up a business deal that has gone wrong or handling an internal HR issue, there are simple steps you can take as a leader to minimize the chaos and, if you play it right, even harness the crisis as an opportunity for growth, development, and greater future success.
Here are 5 essential tips for leading through crisis from experts who’ve seen it all:
Create Room For Communication
Christine Comaford, a leadership & culture coach who uses neuroscience to guide her work, says that it’s imperative for leaders to create safe spaces for employees to share their concerns and “express their emotions.” Leaders should set aside time for emotional ‘check-ins’ during meetings and emphasize to their employees that as long as the conversations are healthy, honest, and fair, they won’t be punished for speaking up. This takes time, which can seem like wasted minutes when you’re in the middle of a crisis, but ignoring employee voices is a good way to set the ball rolling for an internal crisis in the future.
Internationally recognized executive coach and leadership consultant John Baldoni emphasizes the importance of a leader proactively taking responsibility when things are unstable. You might not have initiated the crisis, but, he says, “you can control the response.” A strong leader doesn’t spend precious time putting the blame on others. Rather, “a leader puts himself into the action,” and accepts responsibility for finding a solution.
According to Enrique Conterno, President of Lilly Diabetes, the ability to be decisive in moments of crisis is a must-have trait for an effective leader. Crises often necessitate quick action, but it’s important to take the time to fully think through the situation and to talk to people you trust for feedback and advice. Once you’ve decided on a course of action, Conterno advises leaders to not “spend time second-guessing yourself and re-visiting decisions that have already been made.” Instead, you should “stick with what you know is right,” and see it through.
Crisis creates stress, and stress can be the enemy of sound decision making. As a leader tasked with taking care of your team, you need to take care of yourself first. According to The Crisis Centre, a non-profit that provides support to people as they navigate every sort of crisis, practicing self-care is often the difference between being overwhelmed and being primed for action. Ways to relieve stress include: getting a good night’s sleep, eating healthy food on a regular schedule, and having conversations with friends and family about things other than the crisis.
Just as a crisis can destroy things, it can also be a time of rebirth and positive change. Bill George, author of True North and the former CEO of Medtronic, advises leaders to see crises as moments of opportunity. When things are good, it can be hard to implement changes in company structure or strategy, but when things start going south, it becomes easier for people to see the potential benefits of changing things up. An exceptional leader will identify this window of opportunity and use it as a “platform to get things done.”
No matter how effective you are as a leader or how strong your work is, crises are inevitable. However, you can weather nearly any storm by facilitating communication, taking responsibility, acting decisively, practicing self-care, and taking advantage of the unexpected opportunities that a crisis can create.