"A crisis is like car trouble – keep the car long enough and it isn't a question of if it will happen, it’s a question of when.” – Barry Pruitt
Whether handling unexpected budget issues, employee disputes, or team breakdowns, one thing is for sure – the deeper the crisis, the more challenging it is for leaders and entrepreneurs to determine the right direction, solve the problem, and get the team back on track.
If you’ve ever received a call from the Department of Transportation shutting down your vehicles, or from a client because your disability rate is higher than contracted, or from your bank only to discover that your financial officer has cleared out your cash accounts, or from emergency services regarding an employee who has been charged with DUI after hospitalizing 4 people eating outside a local diner, or – well, you get it. When you receive that call it’s time to think about how you typically lead your team out of Crisis Mode.
Here are five tips to get you started:
Take action. Okay, we have all heard this one, right? How many public figures have been taken down by their inability to act on a problem? Here is a twist on the "Take Action" principle. The truth is that even doing nothing is taking action. It will just be more likely to have negative results. So take a risk, and take an action that is likely to pull your team out of the crisis!
Prioritize. You can't fix every aspect of your crisis at once, so help frame the process for your team by prioritizing components of the problem.
Stay focused on results. If your team keeps its focus on the finish line, any lingering relationship issues or conversations about blame will fall by the wayside.
Tighten discipline. With so many issues changing simultaneously, a crisis situation is a good time to remind your team of the consistent expectations you (and the organization) have for them.
Over-communicate. As a leader, it is easy to focus on operations or problem solving at the expense of staff communication. Don't fall for this trap. Utilize your team as a resource. Increased communication will lessen the negative impact of the crisis.
Use the above five tips to navigate through whatever crisis you are facing, and pull them back out again for the next time. Now let’s take a longer-term view and look directly in the mirror. How are you doing as leader? Self score the checklist below as your first draft of personal leadership insight:
Leadership Skills Checklist
Read each statement and then rate yourself; ratings run from 1 (low) to 10 (high). If you’re really serious, you’ll make copies and have others score you as well. Respond as you think a consensus of your team members would score you. Look first for large gaps in your score versus theirs.
- I inspire positive team performance.
- I confront conflict in a positive manner.
- I remain objective when someone disagrees with me.
- I keep meetings on topic.
- I effectively manage time in a meeting.
- I provide a clear vision to team members.
- I effectively delegate work to others.
- I establish positive relationships with key employees and customers.
- I am able to influence upper management.
- I am patient with people who are slow or who challenge me.
- I recognize the stages of team development and am able to move the team through the stages.
Your Action Steps to Teach Your Team to Navigate Through Crisis
Take time to stop after each and realistically consider your answers to these three questions:
- Think of a current crisis that you are facing. What action (or actions!) can you take today?
- What changes can you make to become a team facilitator versus a directive leader during this crisis?
- A goal without a deadline is just a hope. Snap your team into action by setting deadlines for (at least) the most immediate goals that will lead your organization through this crisis. (Remember: Goals without deadlines = "hope.") What are the most important deadlines facing your team?
To be an effective leader, realize that you’ll never know all the answers, and that you cannot succeed without leveraging other team members. Work on improving any “low” ratings from the checklist and maintain or even reinforce any “high” ratings.
Many of these ideas come from The Manager's Pocket Guide to Leadership Skills, by Peter Barron Stark and Jane Flaherty (HRD Press).