Leading in challenging circumstances is akin to riding with people you care about on a broken down rollercoaster with everyone blindfolded and lacking safety harnesses.
The ups are slow to emerge, and you always know there’s a big drop coming sometime—you just don’t know when much less how steep it will be before you whip around the next turn.
You hope you can keep the cars on the tracks and that you don’t lose anyone along the way.
You wish you could ensure everyone’s safety, and it eats at you that you can’t. But you know you’ll do everything and then some to try.
Every crisis leader I’ve known is searching not so much for easy solutions but ideas that might lead to solutions.
While we naively believe our leaders have the answers, mostly, they don’t.
Many arrived at their present position because they were good at working with others to solve problems and build or create. Those skills are invaluable in a crisis.
They displayed great competence in a narrow discipline, and someone or some group tapped them on the should and said, “We want you to lead and help us out of this mess.”
The leaders I’ve worked for, with, and have coached who genuinely wanted to make a difference, have told me those initial days were disorienting or worse. “I found myself in unfamiliar terrain with no map and hungry, frightened followers looking for answers that I didn’t have” offered one individual on her appointment during a crisis.
5 Things You Can Do Today to Help Your Firm’s Leaders Navigate the Crisis
1. Resolve daily to be part of the solution.
In the face of adversity, it’s common for groups to focus on talking about everything that’s wrong and prognosticating about why the situation is doomed. Yet, each of us has the opportunity in our own encounters to help individuals and groups break out of that mode. Starting today, strive to succeed at every encounter. You can start by challenging your colleagues and coworkers to put aside the griping and gossiping and focus on generating ideas and then turning them into actions.
2. Shine a spotlight on the conversations that no one is having.
I genuinely worry about the conversations that no one is having. These are the conversations about projects that need to be terminated, business models that must transform, and pet initiatives that must be shed. In times of prosperity, it’s easy to gloss over these issues and conversations. In challenging circumstances, bringing them to the surface is critical for survival.
3. Get beyond your fear of level and power and speak up.
Leaders in crises are duty-beyond to maintain calm, concerned, and confident demeanors. In reality, they are desperate for people to come forth with new ideas and suggestions on different approaches. It might seem intimidating to write that note or knock on the (virtual) door. More often than not, you’ll be pleased with the response. If you have ideas that will help, stand in the door, and speak up!
4. Practice gray-zone leadership.
Gray-zones inhabit every organization. They’re the visible process, communication, or structural problems that everyone sees, but no one claims to own. Practice leading without authority and bring coalitions to life to solve those problems. And then keep moving.
5. Create context and engagement that lead to actions.
Use the 3W’s to focus groups on the right issues: What’s working? What’s not? What do we need to do differently? Many of my clients use: Start/Stop/Do More. Both approaches help groups focus on burning issues, and both lead to actions.
The Bottom-Line for Now:
Reframe your view on your leaders charged with navigating crises. Recognize their need for support, engagement, and an occasional helping of empathy. While anyone in a leadership role owns the heavy lifting of solving problems, they can’t do it without your help.