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Leading in a Crisis

We are certainly in a time of national crisis. All the fingers reaching out from it lead to multiple crises in our companies and organizations. Every leader faces crisis at some point in his or her career. And that's when leadership really matters. Like Winston Churchill said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

Here are some of the factors that help leaders respond to challenges and bring the maturity and acumen needed to weather the next storm.

Don’t allow your emotions to get the best of You. Manage yourself. In times of crisis, there are enormous mental, physical and psychological pressures that can lead you to become agitated or perhaps even yell at those around you. Giving up may be tempting. Stay calm. Take a deep breath and refuse to become upset or angry. Lower your emotional flashpoint by asking questions, listening carefully, and focusing on solutions.

Stop and realize that you have a lot more control than you think you do. Now is the time to take charge of your thoughts, emotions, and the way you deal with problems. Remind yourself regularly of the big picture. Get a good night's sleep and start fresh the next day.

Allowing emotions to get the better of you can cause your team to lose faith in your abilities. Employees can interpret this as a loss of control. Be confident in your abilities. You have handled hard times before and you can handle this.

Stay positive and productive. Positivity is the fuel for productivity. In the heart of a crisis, you can choose to either get caught up in all the negativity surrounding you, or you can choose to do something positive about it. There’s always a choice.If you engage the team in brainstorming, you can transformcomplainers into problem-solvers, positively influencing team productivity. Your positivity is bound to rub off on your followers, creating an environment much more conducive to success and growth.

Take charge. Put every limitation on losses as early as you can. Preserve your cash at all costs. Go straight to key people and get the facts—not the hoped-for facts, the imagined facts, the assumed, or the alleged facts. Find out everything you can about what you are dealing with so you can lead effectively.

Communicate constantly. Tell everyone who is affected by the crisis exactly what is going on. Practice a no-surprises policy, and ask for input and assistance. Identify the constraints that affect your situation, and focus on doing what you can to alleviate them

Manage expectations — yours and theirs. When crisis strikes, people want to get over it as quickly as possible. As a leader, this is the time to face the situation and learn the magnitude of the problem. You need to be able to convey the seriousness and the potential impact of the crisis to those who are affected without appearing overwhelmed. Let your co-workers know it might be a while until the storm passes and prepare them for the long and hard battle ahead.

Stay focused and alert. Even with tremendous pressure on every hand, if you will keep your mind focused on getting the next thing done, you will find some relief from the pressure and stress of having too much to do, and the satisfaction will help keep you buoyant.

Don’t take anything personally. Not every strategy or decision you make will give you the intended results. The less need you have to feel perfect the less pressure you will feel. Set clear boundaries. You can’t please everyone, and having the courage to be good to yourself will make you a healthier person and a better leader. When you have weak boundaries, things will get personal and you will be unable to maintain your composure. The noise around you will alter your decision-making abilities.

Keep things as simple as possible. Great leaders boil things down, particularly in a crisis. They understand the priorities and work only on the things that matter. Keep things uncomplicated and therefore less stressful.

Deal with ambiguity. Every crisis comes with levels of uncertainty. You must teach yourself to respond objectively rather than becoming overwhelmed by vulnerability. Focus on what you know to do and do it rather than focusing on what you don’t know.

Exercise your fearlessness. Fear is contagious. If your demeanor reeks of fear, your co-workers may feel scared themselves. You can’t afford to project yourself as someone who is not sure of his ability to lead or is short on confidence.Ask yourself, “What is the worst that could happen?” This will allow you to face the reality of the situation and help you plan ahead. Do that enough times and your fears will eventually be replaced with confidence.

Remind yourself that things will likely get worse before they get better. Don’t try to minimize. It is far better to anticipate the worst and get out in front of it. Face reality and be a truth-teller. It doesn’t help anyone or anything to do otherwise.

Be the first to sacrifice. Crises are always a leader’s true test. Everyone is watching to see what the leader will do. Will they stay true to their values? Will they protect themselves? Or will they be the first to sacrifice for the good of the whole?

Be aggressive. A crisis offers the best opportunity to change the status quo. Don’t look forward to getting back to business as usual. Look forward to having made changes that will benefit you and your company in the long run.

Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel, said, “Never waste a good crisis.” When things are going well, people resist even the most minor changes. A crisis provides the platform to make changes that were necessary anyway, and often gives the sense of urgency that accelerates their implementation.

Good leadership is often synonymous with smooth sailing. However, it’s the tough times that separate the mediocre leaders from the ones who are truly good. It’s during the moments of crisis that your leadership abilities are truly put to the test.

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