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How to Lead in a Time of Crisis

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We have an abundance of information on leadership. We can learn how to inspire, manage, and develop a team; how to change an entire workplace DNA from the top down; how to deal with confrontation. But when it comes to crises, we’re often left in the middle of a winding road without direction. How do we lead in uncharted territories?

By definition, a crisis is unexpected, chaotic, and changes everything. It’s usually unprecedented or has different characteristics from the past, making you the pioneer of something novel. Most leadership has to do with experience and knowledge, but what if we are the first ones?

Imagine the great leaders of WWII and how they had to embark on their personal leadership journey. They had to use the resources they already had to navigate an unknown reality. They understood that to lead in a crisis, they would have to identify their values and core beliefs to create a leadership strategy for success.

When we face a new crisis, we have to depend on our core virtues to decipher the right plan.

1. Understanding The Two Eyes

The Samurai, Miyamoto Musashi teaches us about how we view things in the world. He speaks of the Observing Eye and the Perceiving Eye. The Observing Eye is seeing the reality of a situation, taking a step back, and seeing it for what it is. The Perceiving Eye, considered the weaker view, is when we see something and we invent our perception, opinions, and emotions about the situation.

The Observing Eye gives us the power to objectively study an issue for its reality and take action (we lead in the present). When we see a crisis with the Observing Eye, we equip ourselves to find the best solution without caving into anxiety and pressure.

2. Lead with Character

Talent might elevate us to success, but it is character that sustains us. Our virtues, core beliefs, and identity are what helps us navigate difficult seasons. Our character gives us the power to interpret situations and decide on the right thing to do, even if it might not make sense at the time.

When we face a crisis, we might be tempted to take the easy way out or to do what our peers are pressuring us to do. The right character will assess these variables and filter them through your leadership core views. This is incredibly important, considering you’ll be the one leading your team and need to stand strong on your decisions when times get tough.

Lead with your values. Use empathy, grace, confidence, listening, discipline, and other virtues to lead in an uncharted time.

“A leader is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.” – Nelson Mandela

3. Put People First

The most important component of every crisis will be people. Your team is the most vital difference between success and failure when there is a threat to your organization. When everything seems to be falling apart, it’s people that will put it back together. If we value people and put them first, we increase our chances of weathering the storm.

Each decision you make and each word you communicate will be remembered. A crisis is a vulnerable time for people. They are worried about their jobs and family. Everything that seemed secure is now threatened. If a leader makes this season harder through anxious words and toxic interactions, they hurt themselves, their team, and business.

The best way to put people first is by speaking life into their lives. Encourage them every day, not just for their accomplishments, but for who they are as a person. Uplift them in failure and show them how you appreciate what they have done. Listen to them and find out what ideas they have, what they are passionate about, and what concerns them. Listening is the best way to show that we value people.

During a crisis, we should over-communicate. People need to hear double encouragement and vision. Difficult times call for stronger teams and social security.

4. Be Resilient and Flexible

If you’ve ever led through a crisis, you quickly learn how everything moves very fast. You think you’ve found a solution, but it didn’t work or the crisis has evolved, and now it is obsolete. That’s why resilience and flexibility are so important.

Resilience allows us to recover quickly after a setback. Instead of thinking down on ourselves or analyzing it for too long, we brush off the dust and get back up. We keep trying. Flexibility is when we adjust our sails efficiently as we learn and find opportunities. We do not operate hesitantly when we have to change a process or strategy.

When we implement both of these virtues, we develop grit. We are ready to face challenges head-on and find our way through it.

“The key to successful leadership is influence, not authority.” – Kenneth H. Blanchard

5. Take a Step Back

Much like what the Observing Eye does for us, we need to be intentional to stop and breathe. Take a step back and analyze the situation.

I remember working at a fast-food restaurant in college as a new supervisor. When we had the lunch rush and stumbled upon some problems, I felt stressed. My trainer at the time gave me great advice.

He told me to ignore my instinct at the time, which was to jump in and get busy. I couldn’t assess the situation and wouldn’t be of much help if I just grabbed another cash register. He told me to step back and watch. While the front counter was packed, by stepping away, I realized the real problem was that the kitchen was behind on food. I was able to adjust my strategy.

When we stop to observe reality, we can find the best option. Instead of being busy, we can make strategic decisions that create a bigger output than what we could do ourselves.

When we face a crisis, it can be intimidating. We have very little examples in history to look to. But when we depend on our values and experience to develop a new strategy, we can overcome any challenge put before us.

What do you think is the most important characteristic of a leader? Share your thoughts below!

John Paul Hernandez is a copywriter and business strategist that provides value to companies and their customers through ReadySetCopy.com. When he’s not writing, you’ll find him in Little Havana leaning by a ventanita, sipping his cafecito. You can follow him on Twitter @TeamJohnH.

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