Leading Business Through Crisis
Image from Dallas Innovates.
“In a moment of crisis, reactions set the leaders apart from the followers.” — Peter Stark
As Peter Stark reminds us in his book, how a leader reacts to an exploding crisis ultimately sets him apart from his panicked followers. Regardless of the size, industry, or progress, all businesses face crises. A crisis is less often seen as an opportunity to acknowledge responsibility, take actions, and do better by gaining ideas and commitment from team members. Leading in times of crisis when anxiety is running high seems difficult, especially without a crisis action plan.
While some leaders stay resilient in a situation dominated by a crisis, others, almost all leaders, may find the situation catastrophic. Not to mention leaders have the power to either sink or lift an organization. So, how can you lead a business through a crisis without sinking? Consider the following steps to take while leading a business through a crisis.
- Evaluate with a broad view
Situational assessment is crucial in times of crisis. Earlier and more often the assessment, better. Whether you are cleaning up a messed up business deal, facing a legal battle, handling an internal issue, or resolving a downturn financial issue, the leader has to evaluate the situation and take decisive actions to minimize the chaos. Analyzing a situation through a big picture always helps. However, the human brain is programmed to narrow its focus while facing a threat. Although a survival mechanism for self-protection, the narrow take on threats will restrict your views to see beyond the threat.
Here comes the meta-leadership approach; a broad and holistic view to evaluate a crippling situation. Hence, leaders need to force themselves to pull back and open their mental aperture to take in the whole situation. Take a step back and detach yourself from the crisis, allow yourself to find the root causes of the crisis, and realize what your team has to prepare for -a challenge or an opportunity.
2. Communicate with an inclusive leadership approach
Communication is the key to make a team strong. Every leader has to ensure that they communicate effectively with their team members in a transparent manner with honesty, particularly during a crisis. Understating or overstating the magnitude of the crisis won’t help in the slightest, rather it might impact what comes next. Thus, the leader must inform the team about the current situation and how they can contribute to making the situation better. The solution for any crisis is the collective team effort. Consequently, an inclusive leadership approach will make each person understand how they can contribute, how valuable each of their efforts is, and encourage them to unite their efforts and goals. Furthermore, team-building exercises should be organized in the training program to prepare the team for a similar crisis in the future.
Image from HR Zone.
Everyone in the organization, when faced with a crisis, will be panicked with the need to be reassured constantly. This is when an effective leader plays a vital role because every employee needs to hear from their leaders frequently. When leaders appear calm and collected, and in charge, the team feels encouraged, reassured, and at ease. They need someone they can rely on rather than someone they need to reassure. Moreover, as a leader, you need to be present, visible, and available all the time during a crisis.
3. Refill your half cup
Regardless of the leadership role you play, your influence over the team is exceptionally huge. If you are unaware of your emotional turmoil, you are telling your team to “swim or sink”. Your emotions affect your behavior which in turn will affect your ability to lead. Allow yourself to feel the crisis, then take care of your emotions. It doesn’t matter if you see the cup half empty or half full, the cup can always be refilled. However, you cannot expect yourself to pour from an empty cup. Fill your cup, then pour from it to your team. Once you take care of yourself, you can regain control, and like every other self-assured leader, have the confidence in yourself to lead. Instead of being a one-man-army, trust your people and delegate while providing support and guidance.
4. Take decisive decisions
The most important skill a leader must possess is alertness of mind. Being alert will be a beneficial advantage at times of uncertainty. A leader with a sharp mind will be adept at making split-second yet measured decisions. However, to prevent making wrong decisions, it is important to take the time to fully think through and discuss with team members. Once you’ve quickly evaluated all the facts at hand, then make a collective, calculated decision about what would be the best course of action. Instead of wasting time by second-guessing yourself and the decisions already made, stick with what you know is right. Once insecurity finds its way to morph into self-doubt, you won’t be able to make necessary, hard choices. As a leader, you have to take decisive actions powerful enough to correct the downward spiral instead of minor adaptation to sidestep the elephant on the road.
Leaders who take action, who adapt their decisions for the situation will be more successful in a crisis than a leader who waits and does not take action. The ability to quickly think and choose from a plethora of potential solutions will come in handy while taking a long view of the future. You need to anticipate what comes next week, next month, and next year to prepare the organization for the changes. You should also ascertain having more crisis action plans with key resources for similar emergencies. Additionally, at times of crisis, given the withering situation, you can implement changes that you couldn’t execute before. An excellent leader will not fail to identify this opportunity to change the game in your favor and use it for the advantage of the organization.
5. Prioritize 3Ps
As a leader, you have to take care of 3Ps, namely people, product, profit. However, you must focus on them in the exact order. The priority is always for people; employees and customers. Then comes the product. If the market is not in your favor, bring changes in your products. Why not create new products or services to gain market share instead of simply reacting to a change? Finally, profit.
6. Step away from managing
Leading and managing are two parts of a coin; different nevertheless. As tempting as it is for the leaders to take the place of managers as well, you as a leader should elude yourself from the need to take over. While managers are more concerned with the process, leaders are concerned with the impact. Dealing with the present, managing needs a short view, on the other hand, leading demands a long view into the future. Hence, crises are more often over-managed and under-led. An effective leader must lead the entire team beyond the crisis to a promising future while ensuring someone is managing the present well. In addition to that, if any sacrifices have to be made, you have to step up and show your team that you volunteer first. Besides staying true to your values, making sacrifices to fix a crisis is what a leader must show.
7. Be empathetic
Revenue and profit are important, but they are the result of the collective efforts of your team. As a leader, you have to create safe and healthy spaces for your employees to share their concerns. With your own emotions handled, you will be prepared to listen to your teams’ problems and understand where they are coming from. When they feel heard, it will only boost productivity. On the contrary, ignoring employee voice will be an internal crisis in the future that will blow in your face.
8. Learn from failures
Failures are inevitable. But they are the stepping stones for effective changes. If you fail anywhere (while generating revenue or getting investors), don’t get disappointed. Instead, tackle it. The failures will teach you where to improve and grow. However, if the leader plays it right, any crisis can be seen as an opportunity for growth and development. Hence, take advantage of opportunities that present themselves. While ignoring or dismissing negative feedback, you are ignoring your possible opportunities.
All crises do pass. Only an effective leader can lead a business through a crisis. You might not have initiated the crisis, but you can control the response by accepting responsibility for finding a solution, putting yourself into action, and making decisions with conviction. As a result, you will be capable of regaining control, minimizing damage, and containing the crises.