Say you’re the supervising engineer at Three Mile Island when the alarms indicate a nuclear meltdown in progress.
– Or the CEO of Johnson & Johnson when someone poisons your brand’s Tylenol capsules.
– Or the County Sheriff as massive wildfires advance in a constricting ring around your residents.
– Or the Malaysian Prime Minister when Russia shoots down your passenger airliner.
– Or the Captain of a cruise ship when it runs aground off the coast of Italy and capsizes.
– Or the Director of Recreation when a new and violent gang claims your skatepark as its turf.
– Or the Office Manager when an underling hasn’t properly filled out his TPS Report.
Granted, crises come in all sorts and sizes of potential career-sinkers, and managing them and their responses is never a pleasant task. For a leader in a crisis, it is baptism by fire. Not only is it critical to deal effectively with the immediate consequences, it is crucial to the wellbeing of the innocent, the guilty, the present and future. And as the above examples attest, the caliber of leadership during the crisis, good or bad, makes all the difference in the eventual outcome.
So while you may be spared an international incident or two, as a leader in your organization you will see your share of corporate crises and unmitigated mayhem. And although these successful tactics work at all times, (practice them in peacetime!) here are five never-fail strategies for growing your leadership credibility during a crisis, and enabling a better yet-to-come:
Remain composed instead of clamorous.
There’s enough crazy: adding to it only exacerbates the problem. When the sky is falling, people crave a leader who keeps his or her head when everyone else is losing theirs. In the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers, those who controlled their panic were able to lead countless others to safety before the buildings’ imminent collapse. Firefighters and other emergency personnel proved themselves the best in the midst of the worst by remaining calm in the calamity.
Keep cool in a crisis to fill a crucial leadership need.
Offer clarity instead of confusion.
Many in a crisis become instantly consumed with demanding to know why. And while that may be crucial to prevent a repeat catastrophe, it usually doesn’t address the “what” of the immediate need. When Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans, its victims needed to be rescued, sheltered, and provided for. Debating the contentious and confusing issues of levee management, evacuation policies and public administration failures needed to be reserved for the mop-up.
Offer clear, coherent and direct solutions to alleviate the immediate needs.
Be considerate instead of caustic.
In a crisis, there’s usually plenty of blame to go around. And while some insist in loudly pointing fingers, it changes nothing. Belligerence is not becoming of a leader. But compassion is, and it seeks the best solutions for the most people. Immigrants streaming illegally into the southwestern U.S. create inestimable problems for individuals and governments on both sides of the border, but intolerance for others’ viewpoints and situations never produces a sustainable solution.
Discern realities with compassion and direct resolutions with care.
Exude confidence with courage.
Courage comes from acting despite threat, uncertainty, fear or peril. Like a tonic, faith in an idea, a resolution, or a better future helps enable it, especially when that confidence becomes contagious and the vision is caught by your followers. In coordinating a massive international response to the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the World Health Organization is combatting the viral plague in a setting of “extreme poverty, dysfunctional health systems, a severe shortage of doctors, and rampant fear.” Yet its dedicated health workers, armed with hope and courageously immersing themselves in the epidemic, are the ones who will ultimately make a difference in defeating the deadly disease.
Seize tomorrow’s solutions with certainty to solve today’s distresses with confidence.
Bring competence with candor.
Education is an invaluable investment in developing crisis leadership when its lessons are judiciously and honestly applied. For when you later find yourself in the pits, you’ll discover your capacity is deeper still, and provides a way up and out. In the first major foreign crisis of the U.S. after the Cold War, Iraq invaded neighboring Kuwait, destabilizing the entire Mid East. Operation Desert Storm’s General Norman Schwarzkopf, characteristically forthright to his Commander-in-Chief, his troops and the world at large, led his well-trained forces to liberate Kuwait in just 100 hours.
Shape your professional edge with training and hone it with integrity.
MasterPoint: Character in crisis creates credibility in command.