May 072013 3 Responses

7 Lessons Learned from a Crisis

One of my favorite things to deal with is crisis. Maybe I wasn’t held enough as a child; maybe I’m somewhat crazy; maybe my life just isn’t stressful enough, but I enjoy assisting people through crisis.

As a pastor, I have led congregations through trying times and I have consulted with others as they led their organizations through difficult waters.

Here are seven lessons which I have learned in assisting others through a crisis:

1. You don’t lead a crisis, you manage it.

One of the most frustrating aspects of a crisis is the lack of control that comes with it. Generally, a crisis is beyond your control.

Since you can’t control everything, you aren’t in charge of everything. You never know how people are going to respond. Despite your best efforts, people can choose foolishly and cause more damage.

Because of this, a crisis is managed more than it’s led. The leader has to do the best they can, but then roll with the flow wherever it goes. Knowing that a crisis is more about management than leadership frees the leader to understand all the pressure is not on them.

The outcome is often influenced by us, but never controlled by us. (See: 7 Leadership Lessons from Gus Malzahn)

2. Know your people before you need your people.

No one can handle life alone. Everyone needs someone and most of us need a lot of someones.

It is important to know whom to turn to in a time of crisis, but it is vital to identify those people before a crisis hits. We all should have an ongoing mental check-list of people we respect and whom we can turn to in times of need.

If my life got turned upside down today, I know the first five people I would call for help. Do you know who you would call? (See: Love Your Friends, Don’t Listen to Them)

3. Crisis demands good decision making, not great decision making.

Some leaders get paralyzed in crisis because they believe there is one single great decision which will solve the problem. Rarely is there one great decision that will solve any problem.

Far more important than making one great decision is the ability to consistently make good decisions. Crisis management is not about making one great decision but making a series of good decisions. (See: What a Timeshare Presentation Taught Me About Bad Decision Making)

4. A leader’s first or second opinion always gets judged by their followers’ last opinions.

When leading an organization, you are always judged by those you lead. Even though a crisis is outside your control, you are in charge of how you respond.

The difficulty of a crisis is that a person’s opinion can change multiple times based on the information that is present. Someone not involved in the situation will only remember their last opinion, but they will remember the leader’s first opinion.

For this reason, a leader must be very slow in forming an opinion and expressing that opinion knowing that others will judge them based on the opinion. If a leader is lucky, they might get two chances when dealing with a crisis, but a majority of time they only get one.

While followers can have 100 different opinions about an issue, a leader only gets one. (See: The Number One Rule of Disagreement)

5. Don’t run out of energy when you need it the most.

A crisis can be exhausting. So much time is spent digging for details, seeking wisdom, and trying to develop a game plan that a leader can take for granted the communication of action. \

You need to be at your best when telling your team what has happened or what will happen.

This lesson became clear to me during a particular crisis I managed. Information arose, a team was assembled, we debated through every option, and a plan of action was developed. I hadn’t slept in several days, but I knew the information needed to be communicated to our team who had been left in the dark. The longer they went without knowing, the more time they had to make assumptions of what was going on. They needed to know and I needed to tell them. The only problem was that I was exhausted. They needed me at my best, but they got me at my worst. One more night of waiting wouldn’t have hurt our people, but it would have allowed me to rest so that I was refreshed when interacting with our people.

When communicating the plan of action or speaking with the media or making a major announcement, you need to be at your best. Manage your energy as much as you manage the crisis. (See: What Should a Leader CARE About?)

6. Don’t allow the perpetrator to become the victim.

I believe in compassionate leadership. People make mistakes and good leaders should do everything in their power to deal with those mistakes in a compassionate manner.

However, one danger in a crisis is the switching of roles between victim and perpetrator. Often the person who caused a crisis can tell their side of the story to enough people that they begin to receive sympathy. They can be seen as the victim when in reality they are the perpetrator. If that happens, the victim will be seen as the perpetrator.

We can be compassionate without allowing misinformation to confuse people as to who is the victim and who is the perpetrator. Keep the victim the victim, the perpetrator the perpetrator, and the bystanders the bystanders. (See: What a Drunk Girl Deserves)

7. Always have extra credit built up with your family because you never know when a crisis might hit.

Managing a crisis is time consuming. It demands your time, energy, and nearly every aspect of you. If your life is out of balance, a crisis will tip it over.

Because there are seasons of life in which work will demand more of me, it is of utmost importance that a majority of time I live in proper balance between work and family.

  • If the norm is for me to be home and spend proper time with my family, my wife will understand when a situation arises which demands more of me.
  • If the norm is for me to always run a deficit of how much time I spend with my family, a crisis will not include her support but will be seen as one more thing taking my time.

Having the support of our spouse during a crisis is important. We only get that support if we routinely give our spouse the love and support they need on a regular basis. (See: One Thing You Must Show Your Spouse)

This is not an exhaustive list, but these are seven important lessons I have learned in helping others deal with crisis.

What would you add to the list?


3 Responses to 7 Lessons Learned from a Crisis
  1. […] Whenever I take on the responsibility of others, I neglect my own responsibilities. (See: 7 Leadersh...
  2. […] You can’t wait for the moment. (See: 7 Lessons Learned From a Crisis) […]...

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