How to lead during a crisis.

Scott Agnoli

Scott Agnoli

Founder/CEO, Corporate Coach, Author, Speaker, Designer, Marketer

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It is not if a crisis will happen, it is when. 

Being a leader is more than just having your own office and having people report to you. The day will come when others come to you with an issue, a serious one. At that moment, your reaction to that issue will be measured, questioned, and remembered. It is the time your experience and knowledge will either come into play or question, which will be up to you. 

With everything that is going on in the world right now, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss leadership during a crisis. As I have stated in the past, you do not have to have a title to be a leader. There may be times when no one acts, and you will have to be the one to step up and lead. Today’s blog post is how to prepare yourself for the inevitability that a crisis will occur during your career. Handling it professionally, no matter how large or small it is, will cast you in a new light with your peers and direct reports alike. 

Plan for the “T” in S.W.O.T.

Every leader who does a S.W.O.T. (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis for their business, gets to the “Threat,” they mostly jot down a few things to fill out the list. They jot down items like competitors, advancements in technology they have yet to adopt, internal shortcomings, and move on. Diligent leaders put together a plan to deal with those threats. Exceptional leaders prepare for all threats by brainstorming crisis items beyond a S.W.O.T. exercise and, at the bare minimum, document them. 

Then from time to time, these items will be reviewed, revised, and updated. There is no better way to combat risk than with preparation. When the day comes, even if the issue or problem was not in your list of threats, you will have a prepared mind to deal with a crisis. Practicing the handling of any problem will give you the knowledge to draw upon and make better decisions. Failure to prepare is preparing to fail. However, there are times when you get blindsided and have not had a chance to contemplate developing a plan or an idea of a plan. In that situation, do not panic, get your wits and your team around you and work the problem.

Walk, do not run.

When an issue arises, someone becomes aware of it and tells someone else. Then those people will come to you and say, “What do we do?” In my experience managing through difficult situations, the one thing you cannot do as a leader is panic. In most cases, what makes an issue a crisis is the time element. And, although you will need to act swiftly, you need to act prudently. That means working to resolve the problem devoid of emotion in an educated and decisive manner. Emotion in a time of crisis can cause us to react without a plan, “feeding” the crisis to grow bigger than how it started.

Gather anyone who can give you a knowledgable description of the problem and those who may be able to provide insight into the elements of the problem. Get them in a room and lead your team to: Identify the problem, the cause, halt the progression of the problem, and then repair any damage caused by it. Keeping everyone focused on the issue at hand and not “what it could turn into” will be paramount in resolving it. Walk, do not run as you may “outrun” your vision of the problem and do more harm than good. You cannot take to long to decide on a solution either. Set a time limit for your team to come up with solutions. Doing so will create urgency, which will stimulate and motivate the minds of your group. 

No matter how big the problem is, start with what is in front of you.

In your career, hopefully, you will never have to manage through a catastrophic event. I have led others through natural and man-made disasters—large and small events. I learned that no matter the size of a crisis, you begin to fix the issue(s) with what is in front of you first. Just like standing in the middle of a messy room, you start to clean it with what is at your feet, what is in your way. 

In a crisis, that thing in front of you is usually communication. Communicating with others to alert them, give them status, or ask for their advice and assistance is typically that thing in your way. Sometimes it is not an easy thing to ask for help or have to admit you created a problem and now need help to resolve it. As a leader during a crisis, you need to shelve all fears. You need to step up and take responsibility; after all, this is where the “leadership rubber meets the road.” 

Plan, Act, Check.

During a crisis, no matter how serious, deploy the simple technique of Plan, Act, Check. Make your plan to resolve the crisis. Act by getting your team or others to put that plan into action. Check your plan while it is in progress to ensure it is achieving the desired result. If not, create a new one and start again.  

Final Thoughts:

I have been a part of enough crisis planning, risk mitigation, and issue resolution meetings to choke a horse. What I have discussed in today’s blog may be overkill for some or underwhelming for others. What I know is when you sift through all the crisis planning tools, books, risk mitigation consultants and the like, what remains are the basics I discuss above. It all comes down to working a problem with a plan, enacting that plan then checking that plan. Leading others by demonstrating you can carry out these three things in a crisis will set you apart from others and on a path to greater opportunities and achievement.

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