Six Leadership Lessons I Learned from a Crisis

My Dad’s Self-Portrait

(Published by HuffPost.)

In May 2016, it became clear my father’s health was declining. He lived a significant distance away from his eight children. Three of us traveled to evaluate his situation and ensure he received help. This initial intervention began a problematic road of navigating Dad’s health care, financial, legal, and housing challenges. As I reflected on these experiences, I found six insights about leadership in a crisis that will continue to influence me throughout my life.

Be Your Best

Behavior during a crisis reveals who leaders really are. Intentionally determining to be your best takes the stress down a notch. Behaving with courtesy and speaking with respect allows the leader to focus their energy on those whom you lead and will enable you to problem solve rather than struggle with repairing relationships. Being at your best enables you to think clearly, respond rationally, and remain focused on what is essential. 

Be Observant

Effective leaders understand the culture, behavior, and norms of the world in which they operate. Notice shifts or changes in these norms or behaviors. These are early indications that clients, markets, and/or colleagues require attention. Ignoring change indicates a low level of care and immediately puts you behind the crisis in a defensive position. The person who notices changes and gives appropriate attention to those changes can more effectively lead and can, in some cases, prevent a crisis from occurring. Noticing change shows you care and gives you the ability to move to an offensive position more rapidly.

Ask Questions

Information gives leaders the power to guide the team through a crisis. Asking relevant questions and carefully listening gives you the knowledge and the ability to strategically and tactically prepare for what comes next. This mutual give and take of information also help build trust. During Dad’s crisis, I picked the brains of first responders, doctors, nurses, social workers, Medicaid representatives, Social Security representatives, health care administrators, and providers. Listening to them helped my dad receive proper care and my siblings to understand better the situation we were facing.

Be A Communicator

Crisis leaders provide candid, clear, and brief communication frequently to help the team be at their best and remain focused. The regular Facebook group messages we exchanged helped all the siblings understand what was happening and provided clarity on how to help. Frequent communication also helped us compare observations and support one another as we navigated the crisis.

Take Action

Leadership in a crisis requires decisive, focused action. Observing, asking questions, and communicating are the three most powerful resources to determine the course of action. Your activity must remain focused on the most critical steps to address the problem(s). It is easy to become distracted by being busy with matters that do not precisely move you toward your goals. Be courageous and make decisions. Move forward to reach your objectives.

Be Grateful

Navigating a crisis within an organization is never a one-person show. Express sincere gratitude to the people who take on the various facets of working through the crisis.  Giving timely and specific feedback, including what you are thankful for and expressing trust, further spurs those involved to stay engaged and working toward the goals. Our family owes a lot of thanks to the various caregivers and professionals who helped with my dad’s care. A grateful leader increases the capacity of the individuals and the team. As Margaret Cousins said, “Appreciation can change a day, even change a life. Your willingness to put it into words is all that is necessary.”

Summary

Dad passed away late in September 2016. The summer was very difficult for all, but these six leadership insights helped our family navigate the unknown and challenging road we traveled. The dark days are not as dark when we determine to be our best, be observant, ask questions, communicate, take action, and be grateful. Intentionally implementing these leadership practices will help each of us in everyday leadership, especially when navigating a crisis.

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