Circumstance does not make the man; it reveals him to himself
James Lane Allen
When it comes to leading during a crisis, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Every organization is different. And, what works for one organization may not work for another.
There’s no single “correct” response.
But, even though there isn’t a blueprint for success during a crisis, there are strategies you can employ to adapt quickly, become a more effective leader, and guide your organization to success, even in the most challenging times.
The Dynamics of Crises
[W]e are wiser when in the midst of adversity. It is prosperity that takes away righteousness.
Lucius Annaeus Seneca
In today’s fast-paced business environment, you’ll inevitably be forced to deal with more than one crisis at some point in your career. The crisis may take the form of something widespread in the macroenvironment, like a pandemic or a recession; it may be something that affects your industry, like Uber and the transportation industry or ChatGPT and copywriting; or, it may just affect your organization, like a factory breakdown or widespread employee discontent.
A crisis is a “specific, unexpected and non-routine event or series of events that create high levels of uncertainty and threaten or are perceived to threaten an organization’s high priority goals.”
In other words, a crisis is an event that is marked by three conditions:
- Being unexpected
- Resulting in uncertainty
- Threatening important goals.
Crises create periods of extreme uncertainty: they create environments where the status quo ceases to function.
Crises interfere with the normal functions of an organization and thwart existing strategic plans. They often challenge existing beliefs and require new ways of both thinking and acting. They are situations of significant and constant change that force an organization to transform into a new way of operating.
Many people treat a crisis as a single event and then attempt to deal with its repercussions. But, a crisis isn’t a static event: it is ongoing, changing, and evolving. By its nature, a crisis creates unstable conditions, where what worked one week may not work the next.
The novel, unstable, and high-impact nature of crises makes them hard to deal with and puts pressure and stress on an organization and its members. Time pressure, risk, and numerous, constantly changing goals in the face of a disrupted environment become the normal working conditions. 
But, built into every crisis is the choice to respond. To respond effectively, you must accept that the situation requires you to change course and then intervene to adapt to the new reality.
Even if you choose to not alter your course during a crisis, the crisis will, in most cases, ultimately change the environment around you. It will force you and your organization to adapt to the new reality or be left behind.
Organizations During a Crisis
Many leaders assume that if they can just get through a crisis, everything will return to normal. So they hunker down and wait for the storm to pass. In the meantime, their competitors are reshaping the market to their advantage. Emerging from a crisis, markets never look the same as they did going into it.
In times of stability and growth, organizations and their people tend to get complacent and become resistant to change. They put on blinders and become overconfident that future success will mimic past success; they believe that the current strategy is the optimal one; and, many become defensive against even the suggestion of change.
When a crisis hits, executives that are resistant to change usually enter a period of denial: wishful thinking bolstered by the previous trend of growth creates a feeling of invulnerability. And, this feeling of invulnerability makes them more susceptible to the effects of a crisis.
What they fail to understand is that because a crisis significantly alters the current environment, it requires resilience, not robustness. Robustness is the ability to withstand change; resilience is the ability to recover from change by adapting to it.
Robustness is enough for continued growth when the change an organization experiences is minimal—the type of change organizations usually experience. But, during and after a crisis, the environment usually looks a lot different; there’s a significant change. Only trying to withstand the change—only trying to be robust—results in a lot of effort just to stand still, while the rest of the environment and competition adapts and moves forward.
Scientists, with a nod to Alice in Wonderland, call this the Red Queen Paradox: to maintain your current competitive status—neither gaining nor losing market share—you have to keep moving forward at the same rate as your competition. So, when an organization doesn’t respond to the environmental pressures and the resulting competitive pressures, the organization—despite its effort to buttress itself against the crisis by being robust—doesn’t evolve to meet the change. It falls behind, creating a competitive disadvantage.
Focusing solely on robustness is tempting when things are going well because robustness creates stability—the ability to return to the same state after a disruption—under most circumstances. And, who wouldn’t want to return to a state of stable growth?
But, what is stable in an old paradigm—the environment before a crisis—won’t be stable in a new one—the environment during and after a crisis.
This is where resilience comes in. Resilience happens when an organization faces adversity, adapts and adjusts to it, and becomes stronger.
Leaders of resilient organizations seek new information, assimilate it, and convert it to a behavioral advantage.  Resilience doesn’t involve a radical change; it involves a pivot. When an organization pivots, it needs a place to pivot from. That place is an organization’s purpose and vision—what the organization stands for and what it wants to achieve beyond profits.
When an organization pivots, it stays the same at its core. A pivot doesn’t change the function of an organization, it just changes its form: what the organization does is the same, but the way it does it is different.
This doesn’t result in a loss of identity; it doesn’t change anything fundamental about the organization: the organization still solves the same problems for the same clients or customers.
What does change is that the organization becomes much better at solving those problems in the new environment than an organization that remained steadfast in trying to maintain the status quo.
When you choose resilience instead of robustness in a time of crisis, you gain an advantage over your competition, giving you not only the opportunity to position yourself as an industry leader but also to shape the industry to play to your strengths.
In times of crisis, every organization has the potential for success or failure. Achieving success is much more likely if you choose resilience. To do so, you first have to choose to lead. Then, you have to guide your organization to embrace change and pivot from the old ways, adapting and adjusting to the new reality to become stronger and more competitive.
Leadership During a Crisis
The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the two, the leader must become a servant and a debtor. That sums up the progress of an artful leader.
Max De Pree
People often treat being a leader as an endpoint, something they achieve as a result of working their way up the organizational ladder. They treat “leader” as a position that they can possess. But, being a leader isn’t related to a position; it can happen anywhere in an organization.
The traditional notion that positions of power, like being an executive, are synonymous with being a leader is flawed. There’s a difference between being an executive and a leader: one is a position and the other is a discipline.
Although executives have more potential power to affect change, just being an executive doesn’t make someone a leader. And, their “executiveness” only lasts as long as they’re in the position: it will be there before and after them. Leadership, however, is a discipline that they can bring to any future role.
Contrary to popular, romantic notions of leadership, leadership isn’t a quality that someone has or doesn’t have; it’s something cultivated through experience, discipline, and practice.
In the best-case scenarios, people use the time they occupy the executive position to become effective leaders who leave the organization better off than when they started. Leaders should try to take the people they lead somewhere else, somewhere better. When you lead, you can’t stay in the same place.
A crisis will require different leadership skills than those needed in stable times, but it doesn’t alter the fundamental discipline of being a leader.
The Discipline of Being a Leader
The most important characteristic of being a leader is wanting to lead. This almost seems too obvious to call out. Yet, most people—even those in executive positions—lack the desire to lead, which is compounded by the fact that they also don’t want to follow.
Being a leader is a choice.
Cultivating the discipline of leadership is not about achieving perfection. Instead, it’s about creating an ongoing process of constant improvement for oneself, followers, and the organization as a whole.
Leading involves guiding people toward a shared goal, not by force, but by creating a sense of purpose and shared meaning: leaders make the goal matter to everyone who follows them.
To make a goal matter, first, you must believe in it yourself. Second, you must consider why the people who follow you should care. Third, you must communicate that clearly. Finally, you have to guide people toward the goal. When you do all of that effectively, you engender confidence, support, and an inner desire to achieve the organization’s goals.
Doing this effectively—especially during a crisis—requires more than just constantly leading. It requires balancing two different disciplines: management and leadership.
Management and Leadership
Too often people treat management as something negative—as if it is a lesser version of leadership. Many organizational structures reinforce this notion: they make “leaders” synonymous with executives and place them higher up in the organization than “managers.”
But, just like leadership, management is a discipline—not lesser, just different—that you can choose to embrace or not. And, just like leadership, most people don’t embrace and cultivate the discipline of management.
Management focuses on the present; leadership looks to the future.
During times of stability, the tendency is to prioritize management—improving the current performance. And, for companies content to constantly maintain the status quo, focusing solely on management is often sufficient to achieve their goals—if their goals are only short-term, and they usually are. But, during times of crisis when change happens at a rapid pace, organizations can’t just focus on short-term performance; they have to look beyond the now to the long-term. They have to see the big picture, alter the form of the organization, and adapt to the new reality to achieve long-term success.
During a crisis, it’s critical to constantly navigate between management and leadership. Leading without managing creates goals without implementing the day-to-day behaviors that achieve those goals; managing without leading generates a lot of activity that doesn’t achieve any meaningful goal. Leadership creates and nurtures the vision; management makes sure it has a measurable impact.
When you focus on leadership, you exercise influence: you kindle something inside the hearts and minds of people following you that results in an inner desire to achieve the organization’s goals. Achieving the organization’s goals not only helps the organization achieve its purpose and vision but also helps people fulfill their higher-level needs and makes them want to achieve things beyond themselves. With leadership, you motivate people with meaningful and realistic optimism.
When you focus on management, you exercise authority and control: you ensure that performance levels are met, tasks are accomplished, people’s interests are taken care of, and people are rewarded. You actively focus on the specifics of execution: the things that need to get accomplished to achieve a goal.
Leadership is about the why; management is about the what. Leadership looks to the long-term and the big picture; management looks to the short-term. Balancing these two disciplines is critical during a crisis.
How to Be an Effective Leader During a Crisis
Leading during a crisis is a dynamic process that involves navigating a complex environment with three critical dimensions: you, the situation, and the stakeholders:
- You: To lead effectively, you must be in touch with your organization’s purpose and values, your values, and your biases. By taking time to step back and reflect, you can respond to the situation in the best way possible, rather than automatically resorting to your default tendencies.
- Situation: You have to accept the reality of the situation and treat it as no better or no worse than it is. You have to try and understand what’s really happening at a deep level, rather than just focusing on the surface-level effects. By working to change the actual situation and make it better for your organization and stakeholders, you can move toward a shared goal.
- Stakeholders: When making decisions and taking action, you have to consider the needs of different stakeholders. What different stakeholders want and how they’re affected will vary between groups of people—people below you in the organization, people above you, people in different departments, and sometimes even people in different organizations. By taking into account what different stakeholders want and how they’re affected, you can move people toward achieving a shared goal.
Leading effectively during a crisis requires constantly shifting between applying the disciplines of management and leadership, while also considering the big picture and the individual parts. To do this successfully, you need to utilize four key processes: sensemaking, decision-making, meaning-making, and coordination.
Sensemaking is simply making sense of a situation. It creates the context for decision-making. Although the definition of sensemaking is simple, the process can be difficult. It requires you to both confront your own biases and be aware of the potential biases of people supplying you with information.
If you are not aware of your own biases, you risk misinterpreting the information you receive or only understanding the surface-level effects rather than the root causes. This can be detrimental because you end up creating a context for decision-making that reflects your biases more than it reflects the reality of the situation.
During a crisis, sensemaking is even more challenging because you are under time pressure to diagnose and understand a problem with incomplete and often ambiguous information.
Despite these challenges, sensemaking is crucial as it forms the foundation for the other three processes necessary for effective leadership—decision-making, meaning-making, and coordination.
Sensemaking isn’t about finding a solution but rather gaining clarity about the situation so that when you do make a decision, you’re making the best possible decision given the circumstances. And, it isn’t a one-time process, but an ongoing one that requires constant evaluation as new information becomes available, so that you can adjust your understanding closer to what is really going on.
When it comes to decision-making, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Unlike sensemaking, which is objective—you’re trying to understand the situation as it really is—decision-making is subjective. Decision-making requires you to determine what is best for you as a leader and what is best for your organization, given your understanding of the situation. What works for you and your organization may not work for another leader and their organization, even if the situation is the same.
Just as with sensemaking, it’s crucial to remain vigilant to avoid defaulting to your usual style of decision-making, especially under the high-pressure conditions of a crisis. In a high-pressure environment, people tend to default to making decisions using a restrictive style of decision-making. In other words, people tend to focus on a specific situation rather than looking at the whole picture— a comprehensive style of decision-making. Although there is nothing inherently wrong with a restrictive style of decision-making, defaulting to it during a crisis it can be detrimental because you may miss a critical piece of the complex puzzle.
As you engage in decision-making, you’re likely to create more than one possible solution. To assess the different solutions and determine the best course of action, you need to take into account the situation and then interpret how you should act in terms of your values and your organization’s values, vision, and purpose. Staying true to your values is challenging under normal conditions and it is even more so during a crisis. By staying true to these values, you have a point to pivot from so that you can make decisions that align with the organization’s goals and your abilities.
As a leader, one of your responsibilities during a crisis is to make sense of the situation for your stakeholders and provide them with realistic hope. This is where meaning-making comes in. Meaning-making is about taking the results of the sensemaking and decision-making processes and translating them into messages that are meaningful to your stakeholders so that they become motivated to take action. This meaning cannot be created out of thin air. It should be the result of the processes that came before it—sensemaking and decision-making.
During the process of meaning-making, you must explain what is happening, why it is happening, what actions you are taking, and what actions you need from your stakeholders. You also need to connect your decisions with the values and purpose of the organization. And, you need to communicate in a different way to different groups of stakeholders, because what is meaningful for one group is not necessarily meaningful for every group.
By communicating in a way that is meaningful to the stakeholders, you build confidence in your abilities, reassure your stakeholders that the organization’s purpose is still the same, create an understanding that the situation requires doing something different than usual, and motivate each group of stakeholders to join you in achieving the organization’s goals during the crisis. This will help your organization weather the storm and come out stronger on the other side.
Under crisis conditions, networks of people will form spontaneously as people attempt to help each other deal with the situation. As a leader, it is your responsibility to shape and coordinate these networks to achieve the best possible outcome for your organization and your stakeholders.
The foundation of effective coordination is trust. Trust is built by people seeing and believing that you have their best interests in mind. Under normal conditions, this takes consistent repetition over a long period. But, during a crisis, where uncertainty is high and you display signs that you are taking stakeholders’ best interests into account, a form of transitional trust—what is known as swift trust—occurs.
With swift trust, stakeholders will be willing to give you the benefit of the doubt more quickly than they would under normal circumstances. This swift trust is built by relating to your audience. It can be transformed into real trust—or destroyed—by your ongoing actions.
When stakeholders trust you, they will perceive you as reliable, find your communications more credible, and be more willing to follow you your lead them toward achieving your organization’s goals.
With trust established, you can coordinate groups of stakeholders involved in enacting the decisions you made. To do this effectively, you must take on a role akin to an orchestra conductor, using the disciplines of management and leadership to guide and motivate the stakeholders to achieve the necessary milestones.
Navigating a Crisis
Once we humbly accept the reality of the problem’s complexity and instability, we can give ourselves permission just to focus on what to do next and not worry about all the future next moves that might be down the road.
—Edgar H. Schein
Integrating the disciplines of management and leadership with the processes of sensemaking, decision-making, meaning-making, and coordination can quickly become overwhelming during a crisis where you’re constantly faced with new—and often incomplete—information and the pressure to act quickly. To successfully navigate a crisis, leaders need a process that both incorporates all these aspects—the disciplines and processes—and has a built-in feedback loop to be able to constantly iterate and keep pace with the changing environment.
The best process I’ve found for navigating a crisis is the POP-DOC Loop. The POP-DOC loop was created by the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative (NPLI). NPLI is an initiative from Harvard that both researches crises and trains leaders across government, profit, and non-profit agencies on crisis response.
Before starting the POP-DOC loop, you need to make sure you’re not just acting out of biases and default behaviors, which is the natural tendency when a crisis hits.
Preparing for the POP-DOC Loop
A crisis will activate your survival instincts and your fight-flight-freeze survival response. This response can be helpful when you are in physical danger but can be detrimental in a crisis when you need to use higher-level thinking to reflect on your biases, understand the situation as a whole, make decisions, create meaning for your stakeholders, and successfully coordinate stakeholders to take action.
If you don’t take the time to reset your system to take you out of this survival response, it can continually affect the decisions you make and the actions you take. To reset your system, you need to perform a routine that gets your body and brain to believe the situation is safe. Having a routine like this is also useful outside of a crisis because it allows you to break the pattern of default behaviors, step back, and evaluate if your behaviors are the best for the problem you’re solving.
This reset routine can take many forms. Anything that you can perform without thinking and that makes you feel comfortable and at ease will work. From my experience, breathing exercises are one of the most effective ways to reset your system. My favorite routine for resetting your system and getting ready to act is to apply two breathing techniques from Dr. Andrew Weil in sequence:
- The Relaxing Breath: This breathing technique will clear your mind and put you at ease. Start by pressing the tip of your tongue against the top of your mouth, right behind your front teeth. Exhale through your mouth. Inhale for a count of four through your nose. Hold your breath for a count of seven. Exhale, making noise, through your mouth for a count of eight. Repeat three times.
- The Stimulating Breath: Once you’ve reset your system and put yourself at ease, it’s time to stimulate your mind for the work ahead. Close your mouth. Rapidly inhale and exhale through your nose. Aim for about three breaths per second. Continue this for fifteen seconds. With time, you can increase the duration.
Once you have reset your system with a routine, you can start to engage your higher-level functions to travel through the POP-DOC loop and effectively lead through a crisis.
The POP-DOC Loop
The POP-DOC loop is the best sequential process I’ve found for making sure you cover all the necessary disciplines and processes required to navigate a crisis effectively. It is a six-step process divided into two phases. The first phase involves thinking—perceiving, orienting, and predicting; the second phase involves action—deciding, operationalizing, and communicating:
- Perceive: You remain open-minded and take in as much information as possible. You focus on both the important pieces of the puzzle and the whole picture.
- Orient: You look for patterns in the information to get a better understanding of the situation. You determine what information is useful and what information isn’t.
- Predict: You use the information and patterns to predict what will happen next. You understand that your prediction doesn’t need to be perfect. The goal of prediction is to have you focus on the future and the next steps, rather than get stuck in the present.
- Decide: You decide what to do, given what you predict about the situation and how it will affect your organization and stakeholders. Your decisions are guided by both facts and intuition. You make sure your decisions aren’t guided by your biases.
- Operationalize: You transform your decisions into actions. You engage others to help you implement your decisions.
- Communicate: You give information to stakeholders in a way that’s meaningful to them. You also get information from your stakeholders. You are clear about what the situation is, what is happening, what you know and don’t know, and what you are going to do next.
The POP-DOC loop happens continually throughout the crisis. Once you finish all six steps, you start again, taking into account the results of your previous decisions and any new information you gathered.
Since each crisis is novel, successfully navigating a crisis requires a degree of improvisation. The POP-DOC allows you to be critical and get continual feedback: by going through the loop over and over again, you continually learn and improve your understanding of the crisis and how to respond to it. And, it allows you to act quickly by taking small steps that you continually evaluate, instead of waiting a long time to implement some big initiative that may or may not work.
Engaging in constant learning signals to stakeholders that you’re trying to do your best and it will increase their feelings of trust toward you. This trust will help you mobilize them to achieve the goals of the organization during a crisis.
5 Strategies for Leading During a Crisis
You can’t take somebody else to a place you’ve not been. Leaders have to go there first.
Being a leader during a crisis is no easy feat. To help you navigate the challenges, I’ve distilled the key steps into five essential strategies. These strategies will help you effectively deploy all the tools and techniques you need to manage a crisis and emerge stronger on the other side.
Strategy #1: Reconnect with Values, Vision, and Purpose
In times of crisis, it’s easy to get lost in the chaos and lose sight of what truly matters. To lead effectively, you have to align your actions with both who you are as a leader and what your organization stands for. This is why reconnecting with your values and the organization’s values, vision, and purpose should be the first thing you do.
During a crisis, the time pressure makes it tempting to skip taking the time to reconnect and just jump into action. But without this foundation—this point to pivot from—you risk taking actions that are not in line with the organization’s goals, hurting it over the long term. By reconnecting, you can gain clarity on what truly matters and what you need to do to successfully guide your organization through the crisis.
Before you can inspire others to action, you must first inspire yourself.
Start by considering why you choose to lead. What is it about leading people that adds meaning to your life? By understanding your motivation to lead, you can connect deeply with your values and use them to guide your actions. When your actions stem from your values, you become more fully self-actualized, causing you to become more in touch with the needs of others, like the stakeholders.
Once you know what guides you personally, turn to what guides your organization. What is the purpose of your organization? What does it stand for? What are its ultimate goals? By connecting with what guides your organization, you can ensure that your decisions and actions will keep you on course to achieve your organization’s long-term vision once the crisis ends.
When you combine your purpose with the organization’s purpose, you create a powerful force that will inspire stakeholders with a bigger mission. And, when stakeholders have a mission that is bigger themselves that also speaks to them personally, they will feel a shared sense of purpose and invest themselves in achieving the organization’s goal.
Strategy #2: Reflect Daily and Honestly
During a crisis, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the constant barrage of new information and the decisions you need to make. The pressure makes it easy to fall into behavioral patterns and biases. That’s why it’s important to take a step back and honestly reflect on the situation daily.
By reflecting honestly, you gain a deeper understanding of yourself and the situation. You become aware of how you tend to respond, what your biases are, and what values drive you the most. And, you truly understand the situation you face, instead of just accepting that your first impressions are representative of reality.
Reflecting honestly also allows you to gain humility, which helps you gain a broader perspective. By understanding that no single person—including yourself—knows all the information, you are less likely to dismiss people and you are more likely to properly evaluate the situation, rather than be encumbered by dysfunctional beliefs. You become more aware that people are presenting information from different viewpoints and that anyone can have a critical piece of information.
Reflecting regularly better prepares you to face each moment in a changing situation by giving you greater awareness. During times of stability, it is usually enough to reflect weekly. But during a crisis, where there is constant change, it’s important to reflect daily so that you are best equipped to keep pace with the change.
The best way to reflect is to keep a daily journal. This allows you to set aside time away from responding to people and critically evaluate how you are handling the crisis. You can refine your values, catch yourself making biased decisions, and work out what’s really going on. It also allows you to take on different points of view and see how other people would approach the situation, giving you a broader perspective. Finally, it allows you to become emotionally detached and see the situation more objectively—something that is crucial when trying to make sense of what’s really going on during a crisis.
Strategy #3: Don’t Wait for Perfection
Because a crisis requires large-scale change, it can be tempting to wait until you have a perfect understanding of the situation and a perfect strategy before taking action. During times of stability, you can usually delay your decisions with few repercussions. But, delaying action during a crisis is dangerous because the constantly changing nature of a crisis makes it impossible to ever have a perfect understanding or a perfect strategy while the crisis is ongoing. You run the risk of not acting at critical points, which can have long-lasting repercussions for the organization.
Perfection isn’t possible, but it is possible to keep getting slightly better.
Focus on making a decision based on your understanding of yourself, your organization, the stakeholders, and the situation. Then, evaluate the effects of your actions and any new information. Repeat this process to continually improve, bit by bit.
By accepting that your decisions won’t be perfect, you reduce the potential for both frustration and decision paralysis—the inability to make a decision. And, you become less fixated on being correct, making it less likely that you’ll keep pursuing a path that isn’t working.
As you continue to both act and evaluate your actions, it’s useful to keep in mind the words of Nobel-Prize winner Richard Feynman:
The scientist has a lot of experience with ignorance and doubt and uncertainty, and this experience is of very great importance, I think. When a scientist doesn’t know the answer to a problem, he is ignorant. When he has a hunch as to what the result is, he is uncertain. And when he is pretty darn sure of what the result is going to be, he is still in some doubt. We have found it of paramount importance that in order to progress we must recognize our ignorance and leave room for doubt. Scientific knowledge is a body of statements of varying degrees of certainty—some most unsure, some nearly sure, but none absolutely certain.
Strategy #4: Communicate Clearly
Clear communication is a key to effective leadership, especially during a crisis: if people can’t understand what you’re saying, it’s impossible to get them on the same page and to act together toward a shared goal. As the economist and political advisor Alfred E. Kahn writes, “If you can’t explain what you’re doing in plain English, you’re probably doing something wrong.”
Using complex language or jargon to try and sound authoritative creates confusion and leads to misunderstandings. When language is complex, different people will hear different things: there will be more than one interpretation of what is going on in the situation and how to respond. This makes it impossible to get all stakeholders to work toward a shared goal.
Clear communication means making sure your message is easily understood by everyone, regardless of their background or expertise. Communicating clearly gets everyone on the same page so that everyone can act together in service of the same goal.
Clear communication also means that you consider the different audiences of stakeholders that you need to get on board. What one group of stakeholders needs to hear and how they need to hear it—what is meaningful to them—will likely be different than another group of stakeholders. Evaluate your decisions in terms of your audience’s needs before you decide what to communicate and how to communicate with them.
Finally, clear communication also forces you to be candid. And, when you’re candid with the stakeholders, they’ll be more likely to trust what you say, be less likely to create rumors, and be more likely to be candid with you. This creates a culture of candor, which is critical for gathering the information necessary to make informed decisions and lead effectively during a crisis.
Strategy #5: Empower Other People to Lead
You can’t get through a crisis alone. You need the help of others to make the organization succeed. And, for them to be effective, they’ll have to lead other people.
Being a leader doesn’t just exist at the top of an organization. In organizations that have people who are true leaders—not just “leaders” in title alone—the ability and desire to lead propagates itself across the organization. It becomes a property of the organization, instead of an individual person.
Empowering others to lead starts with getting your ego out of the way. It requires you to become a servant leader—a leader that puts the success of the organization and the people the organization serves above personal gain and recognition. When you become a servant leader, you empower others to act by giving away some of your power. Servant leadership creates the conditions for a culture of leadership throughout the organization.
When you empower others to lead in service of the greater good, they can make the best use of their skills and the resources of the networks and relationships they build—the social capital—to help you and the organization achieve your goals.
Stakeholders who are empowered to lead will take greater ownership and put more effort into getting the right things done. They will trust you more and feel a deeper sense of purpose. They will become more loyal—to you and the organization—and become more invested in the organization’s success.
Together, you can overcome any crisis and come out stronger on the other side. As Father Strickland, a 19th-century missionary, said, “A man may do an immense deal of good, if he does not care who gets the credit for it.”
Beyond the Crisis
What you can do, or dream you can, begin it,
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.
Only engage, and then the mind grows heated—
Begin it, and the work will be completed!
—The Manger in Goethe’s Faust
As a leader, navigating a crisis can take a big mental and physical toll. It can be tempting to put your own needs on the back burner while you tend to the needs of the organization and stakeholders. But, taking care of yourself is critical to your success and the success of your organization. By taking breaks to rest and refuel yourself, you’ll be better equipped to handle the stress and challenges that arise during a crisis.
Although a crisis can seem like all doom and gloom while it’s going on, successfully facing adversity will make you a stronger leader; it will force you to become more attuned to your values and your organization’s values, purpose, and vision. And, your actions in the high-pressure environment of a crisis will make people believe they’ve seen your true character, making it likely that the strength of their trust and loyalty toward you will increase.
Finally, as you lead through the crisis, keep in mind that your actions will shape the type of organization you lead post-crisis. Don’t just focus on defense to protect your organization; take an offensive approach and shape your organization so it will be positioned to lead your category in the post-crisis world.
Crises are difficult to navigate. But, they offer the opportunity to create and more resilient and adaptable organization that can thrive in any situation.