7 Secrets for Managing & Leading through Crisis

Over the past 20 years, I’ve explored hundreds of articles to discover what it might take to do this ‘crisis management’ thing well. I’ve landed on seven ‘secrets’ that you can access on a daily basis with your team. If practiced with consistency, each one will work to diminish the fear, anxiety, stress, and uncertainty that we all feel at varying levels.

Every failure of leadership is due to a lack of courage. Courage to step up, step in, and do the work. At the time of the development of this particular article, our nation and over 200 nations across the globe are in the midst of the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic. If there has ever been a time where leadership matters, this is it. Therefore, it is essential to dial into what it will take to continue to lead your team or organization through this crisis and beyond. This article aims to offer leaders a platform for consideration on what it actually takes to lead people through critical moments.  


Don’t get me wrong, in the grand scope of leadership, few of us actually go through the motions of preparing for a global pandemic – that work is reserved for those in the medical fields and beyond. However, while their work gives us guidance on how we can stay safe through mitigation efforts, we are still responsible for those in our range of influence.


Over the past 20 years, I’ve explored hundreds of articles to discover what it might take to do this ‘crisis management’ thing well. I’ve landed on seven ‘secrets’ that you can access on a daily basis with your team. If practiced with consistency, each one will work to diminish the fear, anxiety, stress, and uncertainty that we all feel at varying levels. Right now, leaders MUST STEP UP. They have to lean into the current situation and enter conversations already going on in the minds and brains of their people. They must learn the importance of giving more of themselves and serve more than ever before. They must learn to meet people where they are in their uncertainty or grief. They must be problem solvers and critical thinkers – at times on the fly – based on the data that they have. They must deliver on their capabilities consistently. And most of all, they must demonstrate a level of empathy – one that measures up exclusively with honest conversations and authenticity. Here are the seven steps.

1. Locking In

Incredible focus on the moment, and the details, being both present in the now and the other foot in anticipation of the immediate future. Truly, as never before, locking in. No distractions, no hyperbole, no waste in efficiency, no noise. Locked In. Prepared to Launch. Buckled Up. It’s go-time!


2. Walking through the Fire – How You Show Up Matters

Showing up each and every day is part of the leader’s responsibility to their team and organization. Showing up on the ‘easy’ days is simple; it’s when the stakes get high, emotions run strong, and opinions begin to vary with uncertainty that ‘showing up’ truly matters. Now is that time – and you cannot hide. Sitting behind your closed door only adds speculation and increases the potential fear your direct reports are experiencing. Retreating and allowing the stories that people have in their heads create unfounded speculation to their worries. Therefore, you MUST walk through the fire – you must be at the tip of the spear.


3. Transparency – Delivering the Message

In times of crisis, messages need to be delivered in two unique and different ways. The first is a visionary, aspirational perspective that speaks to the objective, goal, or aim. This provides hope and direction, and as a leader, you should be well-versed in having a solid skill set in delivering upon your team’s vision. The next message is more in the weeds. These are moments where direct, explicit instruction provides those in your lead a chance to see what their role is. It is a micromanagement skill that is necessary and vital to executing command and control and deploying your resources and charge. Assign the responsibilities and allow the people to do the work.


4. Problem-Solving & Critical Thinking – Tapping Into Your Resources & Resourcefulness

In times of crisis, human beings respond in a variety of ways. Some go to panic and survivalist mode, where the only images they see are doom-and-gloom. Others are on the opposite side of the continuum, hopeful and optimistic. Your responsibility as a leader is to keep your finger on the pulse of what is happening in real-time and determine the resources you have at your fingertips to help out. As resources become taxed or begin to get depleted, you’re likely going to have to get resourceful. What this means as a leader is that you have to tap into your capacity to get innovative and creative. You must become a problem-solver and critical thinker, once again anticipating what you will need and how much.


5. Building Resilience – Creating a Community of Can-Do

As your leadership unfolds during critical times, what will you teach your team about your ability to be resilient? What will you expect from your team regarding resilience? Are you fostering a culture of panic and uncertainty, or are you resolved to deliver on connection, growth, and contribution? As President Kennedy famously remarked, “For of those to whom much is given, much is required.” These are moments where you can absolutely solidify your position within your organization. When you are finally through any particular crisis, you will see who the true leaders were that stepped up, leaned in, and provided the highest degree of resilience.


6. Vanilla Ice Leadership – STOP, COLLABORATE, & LISTEN!

The first line of the former pop star’s hit was “Stop. Collaborate, and Listen.” While this is an unconventional method of sharing a message about leadership, times of crisis call for unconventional responses. Collaboration in times of crisis is an essential part of what leaders must embrace. Doing so affords the leader opportunities to learn, gather data, design plans and alternative plans, and conjure up images of the next steps that should be taken. Collaborating also reinforces the previous secret on resourcefulness.


7. Long-Term Vision & Short-Term Plan

By now, if you have been in a leadership role for any length of time, you understand the importance of providing a vision and a plan to achieve it. The challenge that leaders face in times of crisis is adjusting their timelines to a shorter window and more realistic timeline of completion. Reimagine your short-term vision and plans for the future so that you can take a measured-step approach to working through the crisis itself.

To learn more about leading through crisis, travel to our E-Learning platform and take the self-paced, online course, 7 Secrets to Managing & Leading through Crisis.  You’ll walk away with a comprehensive understanding of how to get yourself, and others, through those tough times.  Best of luck to you, and remember to live and lead with purpose & passion.