Leading in Crisis: 10 Leadership Points


Pandemics and protests and elections, oh my!  The lions, tigers and bears that leaders must navigate continue to wreak havoc for even the most accomplished and confident leaders. There are ten critical leadership points of view that will serve as guideposts for your journey as you lead in crisis:

  1. Don’t believe everything you think
    The truth is fluid and reality is shifting in times of crisis.  Uncertainty and complexity dance with ambiguity and volatility. We all have truths we believe and values that guide us, however the hallmark of effective leadership during crisis is the ability to develop and cultivate the new attitudes and beliefs needed for moving through the crisis and setting the stage for what’s to come. Develop a habit of questioning your assumptions and do not automatically believe what your thoughts and knowledge tell you.  What if that which you believe to be true isn’t actually true? What else is possible?
  2.  Serve
    Operating from a service mentality allows leaders to question everything.  What will serve us best in this situation? What will serve my employees? Where can we have an impact and be of service externally? Whom do we serve?
  3.  Inquire
    Leaders must constantly seek input, even more critical in times of crisis. What does the experience of your staff tell you? Be curious about their unique points of view and seek to learn from everyone. What is new that you don’t yet know? What have you not yet thought of? Seek diverse perspectives and new ways of thinking. Be sure during crises to  overly communicate from authentic humility and with added transparency.
  4.  Awareness
    Leaders must continually cultivate a deep and accurate self awareness, but in a crisis this is even more important. Where do you hold judgment and negative thinking that will compromise innovation? Who are you discounting that will have useful insight? What is happening in the culture that is impacting performance? What are you not aware of that will help to crack the code?
  5.  Letting go
    What are you holding tight to that you need to let go? What no longer serves? What beliefs or assumptions or truths can you let go of that will cause an opening for new solutions?
  6.  Create certainty
    During a crisis, there is a lot of uncertainty and fear. That throws people into survival mode, which floods their brains and nervous system with stress chemicals, hijacking their ability to logically problem-solve. As a leader,  if you can create certainty, it will allow your people to bring their best frontal cortex contributions to the fore.  If you don’t know when something will happen, you can create certainty by letting people know when you’ll make a decision, or when you’ll have more information. Anything you can communicate that gives people a sense of certainty and control will serve the solution. Amiel Handelsman says there “are three conversations you can initiate to calm others’ nervous systems: “How we will decide”, “What happens next”, and “What we can offer”.
  7.  Transform attitudes
    Leaders can model for others how to transform attitudes and beliefs that must shift to meet the needs of the newly emerging reality. Thinking must shift and old frameworks or mental models that worked until now may not work going forward. Embrace not knowing and leverage your intellectual humility to develop the attitudes that will allow growth.
  8.  Pay Attention
    What do we not know to pay attention to? What are we paying attention to and does that still matter? What matters most? Leaders must direct the attention of the organization by signaling what matters now and what will matter more in the post-crisis environment.
  9.  What do we not know to ask that we should be asking?
    This is one of my favorite coaching questions for leaders to ask themselves and their senior leadership and their peers and direct reports. It’s how new truths get uncovered. It’s how to plan a path forward, even when all seems uncertain and on shaky ground.
  10.  Experiment to innovate
    When we come from a creative place of service, we can let go of what we know worked, of what we think we know from experience, and we can look forward into the future to design experiments that will allow space for us to innovate into the new reality that the crisis will open up. Crises always bring gifts and opportunities.

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