The One Thing a Leader Must Do in a Crisis

Mike Krzyzewski, more commonly known as Coach K, is arguably one of the greatest basketball coaches of all time. I never liked Coach K, as his teams always defeated my favorite teams. However, with time and experience comes maturity.

Leadership is an Ever-Evolving Role

In my case, a more mature view of the world now allows me to appreciate Coach K’s brilliance as a leader, as well as his leadership qualities and style.

In addition to five NCAA championships, Coach K has a long list of other achievements that seems impossible for one lifetime. His success as a leader and his leadership skills can be credited to his ability to adapt and overcome whatever challenge he faces. Coach K’s quote reminds us that leaders must adapt, and this is especially true in times of crisis.

I used my life savings to become an owner of an internet company just months before the .com crash. My “sure thing” quickly become a battle for survival. Shortly after, we were caught off guard by the economic devastation following 9/11. Our company barely survived. Once we regained our footing and began to prosper, we were nearly crushed by an embezzlement that was every bit as devastating to us as the fallout from the .com crash and 9/11. We survived and prospered until we sold the company in 2007. In 2008, I founded a recruiting agency. I believed that entrepreneurial wealth is created coming out of a recession. I believed the economy would rebound quickly out of the recession, just like every other recession I had experienced. It was not to be.

Most of us remember the historically slow recovery from what would become known as The Great Recession. Against the odds, we survived and even prospered as we received local and national awards for the company’s growth. And then the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Would I have chosen an easier path for myself?

Perhaps— or perhaps not. Through all these crises, I have learned that leadership is indeed an ever-evolving position. If I could roll back time to the year 2000, I would give myself this invaluable advice: lead from the front.

Leading From the Front

The leadership style and skill-set known as “leading from the front” has been discussed for many years and described in many ways. Here is what I mean when I say “lead from the front.”

To lead from the front in times of crisis, take the following five actions:

1. Be visible.

A friend of mine described the business community as being “shell-shocked” as a result of this current global crisis. “Shell-shocked” creates a powerful visual of people knocked to the ground and confused. A leader can be knocked to the ground, but a leader cannot stay on the ground. A leader must be the first to regain their footing and stand up strong— actions that demonstrate to others the appropriate response in this time of crisis.

2. Communicate clearly and often.

Communicate clearly to your team about what you are facing. As a leader, communicate to your team your confidence in them. Be honest and use this time to build trust. Things can change very quickly in a crisis such as COVID-19, so clear and consistent communication throughout the entire crisis is critical in a business setting. 

3. Allow, but also redirect emotional responses.

People are emotional beings. An outpouring of anxiety, anger, or fear is natural and to be expected in times of crisis. Allow people close to you to share their emotions. It may be wise to ask them how they are feeling. However, after venting through the negative emotions, intentionally refocus individuals on the tasks at hand while also sharing your confidence in them. 

4. Shelve the business plan.

There is an old saying that goes, “when the map doesn’t agree with the landscape, throw away the map.” In times of crisis, shelve the business plan and reset with a crisis plan. Your crisis plan should be grounded in your values and should include, at a minimum, your team’s specific responses to the current crisis. Your crisis plan is intended to ensure survival and help you launch out of this crisis faster and smarter. 

5. Lean on the team.

When attempting to lead from the front, a leader can end up trying to do everything on their own. But a good leader has a good team. Allow your team to step up and shine in these difficult times. Delegate to your team and remember: when a strong team is grounded in your values, they need the “what” more than the “how.”  

In Conclusion

Every crisis presents unique challenges, so there isn’t one leadership style that fits every crisis best. However, this crisis calls for these five actions: leaders must lead visibly from the front, communicate clearly and consistently, allow but redirect emotions, create a crisis plan and lean on the team.

If you feel you need a peer leader during this crisis, contact me at TeamBuilder Search. We can get through this together.

Written by Mark Whitman

Mark Whitman is the founder of TeamBuilder Search. Mark’s mission is to help clients recruit the top five percent of digital marketing executives, taking great satisfaction in helping clients out-recruit their competition. In the process of fulfilling his mission, he takes great care to help digital marketing leaders elevate their careers. People say Mark owns a recruiting and staffing company. He says he owns a life improvement company. To learn more about Mark visit our Leadership page.
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