Leadership Through a Crisis
Leadership is a mixture of raw talent and learned skills, and a crisis can either destroy a leader or uncover a great one. It’s easy to read management books, watch webinars, or receive mentoring. The hard part is developing the humbleness to listen to competing opinions, the courage to act quickly and decisively, and the strength to move forward for the greater good, despite possibly causing pain and heartache. The truth is—the heart that breaks most often is that of a leader when tough decisions are made.
There are two main types of leaders: peacetime leaders and wartime leaders. It takes different skills to excel at each of them. A peacetime leader requires patience and must evaluate risks differently than a wartime leader. Resources are assessed differently when you’re not sure of their availability. The numerous stories of great leaders shepherding a country or a company through crisis provide lessons of their mistakes and successes. However, it can be hard to apply those lessons to your current challenges while amid the battle.
“Take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly, and try another. But by all means, try something.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt
I am a believer in servant leadership. This is especially important in moments of crisis. As leaders, our key role is supporting our team in pursuit of a common goal. If we assume, as we do at MGME, that our team is excellent at what they do, then moments of crisis are the time to unleash them. Pick a few critical initiatives. Point the entire company at them. Provide a vision and direction that rallies coworkers around these shared goals.
One of the toughest decisions is choosing between patience with laser focus on a direction, and the right time to pivot. It may take months or even years to know if you made the right choice. This must be a conscious, daily decision. Often, inaction disguises itself as patience while impulsiveness impersonates decisiveness. A lack of action must be a strategy, not fear, friction or entropy. Don’t pretend you know everything. Look to your team for answers. Create a brain trust that supports your goals. Let them into your family. Share your feelings and make sure they know how important they are to you, personally.
“Courage is not the absence of fear. It is going forward with the face of fear.” – Abraham Lincoln
Managing a team during a crisis requires a sense of empathy. That’s hard to maintain while moving at a thousand miles an hour and fighting for your survival. Your team fears both the known and the unknown. They need a leader that understands their fear—someone going through the same experience and continuing on despite it. Your openness and honesty are essential, now more than ever. The team must believe you will provide the truth even when it is painful and even scary. This reduces their fear of the unknown. The known fears are the easiest to address, but we often overlook them because they seem obvious. Look your team in the eye and tell them the challenges ahead, the possible solutions, and the unanswered questions. Keep them up to date on forward progress or even when you get knocked back a few steps.
“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” – Jack Welch
The most important action a leader must take can be the hardest. When the night looks the darkest and you feel all alone with the walls closing in, you MUST be the voice of hope and optimism. Continually paint the picture of what success looks like. Create a destination in the distance to march towards. No matter how far away it is, your team must understand there is a path to it. Every moment along the journey is a chance to succeed. Look for small victories to celebrate. Honor our failures and learn from them, let them shape our decisions and drive us to success.
I read a series of interviews with great CEO’s. They consistently point to one secret of their success—they never quit. They absorb more pain than their competitors. They may get knocked down over and over again, but they never give up. And because of that, no matter how hard, their teams never quit either.
“Continuous effort, not strength or intelligence, is the key to unlocking our potential.” – Winston Churchill
Chief Executive Officer
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icon-video-cameraJeff recently participated in the Event Leadership Institute discussion on “Leadership During Uncertain Times” (Webinar March 30, 2020). Please visit the ELI website to watch the free webinar.