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Written by Jerry Olson, The Resultants
A crisis can create chaos, confusion, fear. However, it can also create opportunity. Now is the time to rise to the occasion and provide the sort of leadership that calms the chaos, provides clarity in the confusion, and brings hope in the midst of fear. Unfortunately, doing so doesn’t always come naturally and there are a few characteristics and skills this sort of leadership requires. Just being the loudest voice does not calm the chaos. Just having a plan does not bring clarity to confusion. Just repeating aphorisms does not generate hope in the face of fear. Instead, here are five behaviors that will help you be a better leader in a crisis.
People do not willingly follow leaders they don’t trust and under it all, the foundation of trust is truth. To effectively lead, you must always tell the truth. Something other than the truth might work in the short term, but if you want to have trust for the long term, you have to be honest and upfront. Don’t lie, don’t fudge, don’t speculate, don’t make stuff up. Make sure what you are telling people conforms to essential reality. If you don’t know, tell people you don’t know. And when you speak the truth, do it with compassion, especially if the truth is hard to hear.
When an animal faces chaos, confusion or danger, their instinct or conditioning drives one of three reactions: fight, flight or freeze. Humans with more evolved brains can respond differently than animals. When we face danger and fear, we have a better fourth option. We can think critically with imagination. Our imagination provides a way for us to create a mental picture of a desired future better than today. Great leaders use their creative and critical thinking skills to overcome the fight, flight or freeze instincts in order to make optimal choices.
Once we’ve used critical thinking to imagine a better future, we must create a plan to adjust course and bring it into reality. Great leaders realize what got them to this place may not be what moves them forward. Especially when in an external crisis where the environment or market is changing, it is critical for leaders to adjust course in thoughtfully planned out ways.
As mentioned, one common response to crisis is to freeze. Many people want to wait to see what develops before they act or make changes because they are afraid to make a mistake. However, those who survive during crisis and thrive afterwards are usually the ones who adjusted course quickly. It has been interesting to see how quickly some marketing messages became irrelevant and how quickly some companies adjusted their messaging to fit the current Covid-19 crisis. The leaders who act quickly with flexibility have the opportunity to rise to the top.
The old adage “you can’t do it alone” is especially true during a crisis. As good leaders think critically and act quickly, they also seek help. Who are your trusted advisors you can lean on when things get tough? A good network of people with a variety of expertise is important now more than ever. Great leaders should always be building and nurturing a network of people who, at the time of the initial meeting, might not have much to offer but at the time of crisis, can provide critical help. Truly effective leaders know they can’t do it alone and regularly look to others to provide help and expertise.
Those who effectively lead through uncertain times can overcome chaos, confusion, and fear. They do this by always telling the truth to themselves and those they lead. They use imagination and think critically as they adjust course with quick, flexible actions. Finally, they seek the help of others as they navigate the chaos and uncertainly.
Written by Jerry Olson, The Resultants
Throughout his 30+ years of business experience, Jerry Olson has provided leadership inside organizations as well as facilitated leadership development as a Business Advisor and Human Resources consultant.
After many years of running his own consulting and facilitation business, Jerry partnered with The Resultants, a leading Twin Cities business advisory firm, in 2013. As a Business Advisor, Jerry advocates for the best interest of your business, using a process that has proven time and time again to help companies build value and achieve personal and professional success. In addition, Jerry and The Resultants have provided instruction and curriculum for Housing First Minnesota’s Leadership Institute for the past five years.
Learn more about Jerry and the Resultants at theResultants.com.