In a crisis the instinctive reaction of most business owners is to manage their way out of it. Management is reaching for spreadsheets to generate rational decisions about the allocation of limited resources. Leadership is reaching for the human spirit to generate exceptional performance from ordinary people. Manage things. Lead people.
The human spirit can surprise you. It is without limits. But the human spirit can be fickle. It has to be nurtured. It has to be inspired. Go the other direction and it can easily be crushed.
The first requirement of a leader in a crisis is a steady hand. In fact, the statement “steady hand” is short for “a steady hand on the tiller.” Sailboats are steered by their tillers. When there is a rough sea, the tiller must be guided with a steady hand to keep the boat on course and to avoid capsizing.
A leader’s steady hand is his ability to present a calm, confident demeanor. The leader may be terrified inside, but outside he is composed and in control. When a leader shows an ounce of fear, the team reflects back a pound of terror. When he shows confidence, the team is comforted and inspired.
Nature abhors a vacuum and so do people. They make up their own stories in the absence of information and their narrative is always darker than reality. Leaders relentlessly communicate. We are tribal at our roots. Our DNA was forged around the campfires of antiquity sharing stories to teach lessons. Leaders draw on this with stories crafted to communicate the lessons they want the team to absorb.
When decisions are needed in a crisis, leaders make them without hesitation. They may not know the optimum answer, but they know that any answer is better than paralysis.
In a crisis, leaders are optimistic while being realistic. The human spirit is nurtured by hope, so the leader offers a vision of survival and victory that may not be easy, but is achievable. Though the race is hard, the team is strengthened from the knowledge that the finish line is ahead. The leader teaches his team to think, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for I am the toughest, most determined person in the valley.”
When decisions are needed in a crisis, leaders make them without hesitation. They may not know the optimum answer, but they know that any answer is better than paralysis. Outside of the government, organizations cannot exist in a form of stasis waiting on a leader to make up his mind. General George Patton, one of America’s greatest battle leaders said, “We will do what has to be done and we will do it now! Prompt action immediately on a wrong decision may be far better than the right decision made days later.
Decisiveness is consistent the sense of urgency the leader must sow throughout the organization. In a crisis, the team needs to feel a sense of urgency. Time accelerates in a crisis. People need to act and act now.
The human spirit is nurtured by hope, so the leader offers a vision of survival and victory that may not be easy,
To act now, to act with urgency, individuals need to feel empowered. Crisis leaders must trust their teams and encourage them to take initiative, to innovate as individuals, to be opportunistic. Leaders must create the environment where there is no fear in failure, only fear in the failure to make an attempt to succeed.
People may work hard on their own, but they will move mountains for others. Leaders encourage their teams to work for each other, to support each other, to serve each other. They remind their teams who the company serves, how they impact customers’ lives, and the importance of what they do. They give them a bigger purpose to work for.
In a crisis, leaders are flexible. They are ready to pivot as opportunity is unveiled. Leaders are prepared to try something different, to rewrite the old rules and the old procedures for the new times. The companies that adapt faster, last longer, and prosper more.
Ultimately, leading through a crisis is an exercise in determination. Leaders are determined to succeed and they are infectious in their determination. Leaders survive a crisis because they make a decision to survive and while they might exert flexibility in how they approach the crisis, they are completely rigid in their determination to persist and ultimately, prosper.
Finally, true leaders maintain a servant’s heart. Leaders put their teams first. This enables their teams to put their customers first. This results in the customers putting the company first, which emerges from the crisis stronger and better positioned than it was at the start.
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