“We know from chaos theory that even if you had a perfect model of the world, you’d need infinite precision in order to predict future events. With sociopolitical or economic phenomena, we don’t have anything like that.” — Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Like a thief in the night crisis will befall your company, organization or team. It’s not a matter of if but when the force of Lady Luck decides betray you and level your organization.
Leaders in fast-paced sectors experience crisis frequently. Daily occurrences of crisis feels like “putting out fires.” This is something that shouldn’t be foreign to effective leaders. It should be embraced.
When chaos ensues, it separates the true leaders from the pretenders. This is where authentic leaders rise to the challenge and overcome. I personally thrive on chaos. It gets my adrenaline pumping and I love the challenge.
Leaders should look at crisis situations as opportunities for growth and to spread their wings. This is also a perfect time for leaders to establish their reputations as an effective leader.
Play leaders are overtaken by fear and panic their way into making all the wrong decisions.
Reaction vs Response
This piece is predicated on helping you understand the benefits of responding instead of reacting. Reaction is an automatic, flight or fight event. It is amygdala driven and should be minimized at all costs.
As a leader you want to be cerebral and respond to circumstances with logic and well thought out, actionable plans.
So, what are you to do as a leader when met with chaos and crisis? No matter the circumstance, crisis or chaos you find yourself in as a leader, there’s always a way to deal with it.
In the coming sections I’ll outline a model with a series of steps. Think of them as scaffolding to erect your approach to containing crises.
Leadership In A V.U.C.A. World
“The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence — it is to act with yesterday’s logic. ”— Peter Drucker
V.U.C.A. stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. This is the constant state of our existence.
In a V.U.C.A. world there are five key factors you must be willing and ready to face at any given moment.
The degree to which you fully accept V.U.C.A. influences your ability to:
- Anticipate the problems that manifest
- Understand the outcomes of problems left unchecked and outcomes of applied solutions.
- Appreciate how variables are linked and how they influence each other
- Prepare for enactment of contingency plans in the event of unforeseen challenges and alternative landscape
- Interpret and cease relevant opportunities
No matter the model you choose to use to handle crisis, whether from this piece or any other pieces, these five factors have to be at the forefront of your mind. If not at the forefront, they at least have to be second nature. But that only comes after years of leadership.
8 Key Steps For Effective Crisis Management
I want to start off by saying that these 8 steps are not exhaustive. There’s way more that goes into crisis management but I’m not in the mood to write a whole book…yet.
These are 8 steps that I’ve found to help me navigate through chaotic situations as my time as a leader.
Get Control Of Your Mind: Self-Directed Warfare
“Your mind is the starting point of all war and all strategy. A mind that is easily overwhelmed by emotion, that is rooted in the past instead of the present, that cannot see the world with clarity and urgency, will create strategies that will always miss the mark.” — The 33 Strategies of War, Robert Greene & Joost Elffers
Think of crisis situations as war. The first war must be won in the mind. If you’re not addressing the battlefield of the mind, where your emotions have the propensity to overwhelm your thinking faculties, you won’t be able to form effective strategies.
There’s 3 steps Robert Greene says we must take to become authentic strategists:
- Become aware of the weaknesses of the mind and the illnesses that sap. psychic energy.
- Declare war on yourself to perpetuate momentum.
- Apply certain strategies to keep the enemies within at bay.
Understand that the inner and outer enemy have much more in common than you think.
“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”— Anais Nin
Your mind needs an opportunity to process information in a crisis. If it’s overwhelmed with information and your judgement of the chaos itself, this will render your leadership obsolete. You’ll panic and become scatter brained.
Controlling the mind is going to take some inner dialogue. Affirmations, mantras and mindfulness exercises are great ways to sharpen the mind.
Another way to gain control over your mind in times of crisis is to utilize “Solomon’s Paradox.” When you’re able to view the crisis as if it weren’t your own, you’ll be able to view it much more objectively than if you were to try to solve the problem within the problem itself.
The next step is to get a clear definition of the crisis. Make it as articulate and clear on paper as possible. Start with the 5 Ws.
- What happened?
- Who is involved?
- Why did this happened?
- When did this first happen?
- Where did this happen?
You’ll also want to ask: “How did this happen?” This is one of the first objective steps I would take as a union steward when a crisis was unfolding. It never failed me.
Taking notes helps you too keep everything about the crisis manageable. You get rid of the nebulous nature of the variables. This allows for you to keep a realistic grasp on the situation.
Many times reactive management blow everything out of proportion during the onset of a crisis. This is the problem with being reactive instead of being responsible.
Never panic. But also never underestimate the seriousness of the situation. Take your time. Let everything unfold as it should while you get a clear picture and you’ll know what to do next.
“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.” — Stephen Covey
You should already have leadership built on trust. If you don’t already, you’re in big trouble because this step requires it if you’re an authentic leader who’s influence is based on trust.
Now that you have all of the facts and have painted a clear picture it’s essential you tell your team what’s going on. Don’t try to hide the details. This is where you get to control the message as well as flow of information.
The last thing you want is a bunch of misinformation getting out before you even had the chance to address the situation first.
Remember, it’s best you be honest from the get go. Your team is not made up of babies. They’re adults. They can handle a little(or big) crisis here and there. Never underestimate the power of the human will to thrive.
Provide your team with the information, tools and morale and they will thrive throughout any difficult situation.
On the other hand, if you don’t trust them to work through the situation with your leadership then you should probably:
- Re-configure your team.
- Rethink your leadership ability.
At this point you could either designate a spokesperson or you could speak to the team and the public directly.
Figure Out What Needs To Be Done & Do It
Your mind is sharpened, you got the facts, your team is informed, now you need to figure out what needs to be done and do it.
This takes 3 steps:
- Figure out what needs to be done.
- Pick a mode of delivery.
In order to prioritize you need to figure out some facts about the individual elements that can to be used based on three things: severity, importance and development.
Evaluate Your Options
Now that you have your priorities straight. You need to think of the options you have in your arsenal. This is the time where you align your options with expected outcomes. When you narrow your outcomes down you get into the nitty gritty details.
This is one the “fun” parts of leadership where you may have to choose between two crappy options when it comes to a specific strategy.
For example, you may want to execute a specific option but when you think it through with your team, it can only end in a not so good way. You look to another option and a similar “not so good” outcome presents itself.
As a leader, you’re there to make the call. The call might suck but it’s what you do. You’ll also piss people off in the process.
On the other hand, you might have a crisis situation where you do everything right and everything turns out great. But this is where you need to come to terms with real outcomes whether they’re good or bad.
Make A Plan
“Always plan ahead. It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark.” — Richard Cushing
Don’t even bother to try formulating the “perfect plan.” It will never turn out how you want it. However, you need a general framework to approach crisis. This is the structure you will use to maintain consistency throughout your campaign.
Take all of the resources you have and formulate the best plan you can with those resources.
Sometimes it will fall short. Sometimes it will be like killing a fly with a .50 caliber machine gun. Either way, you’re bound to miss your mark. Some plans will only serve as temporary damage control in the event that the crisis rate of development is swift.
At this step, you delegate roles, define processes, formulate plans and prioritize your actions.
Make Adjustments According To Changing Conditions
“Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” — Albert Einstein
After you’ve deployed your plan you want to establish perpetual momentum and make adjustments according to changing conditions. Remember, this is a V.U.C.A. world. Things are shifting constantly. Don’t think a plan that worked a few moments ago will work again in this moment.
You have to be ready to tweak a plan in certain places to produce desired results based on new information.
Control The Narrative
As you’re launching an assault on the crisis, many people within and without your team will have something to say.
It’s important you control the narrative by updating the relevant parties on the progress of the crisis management situation. You’ll need to repeat this information over and over in order to establish the correct narrative in their minds.
As I mentioned in another article, you’re going to have people who will challenge your leadership. They’ll think they can do your job better than you. You’re job is to take the high-road and not squabble with people who only want to knock you down a peg.
Maybe you’re doing a fantastic job. They’ll still have some negative stuff to say. Just be sure to get ahead of the non-sense with reliable, trustworthy information.
A Final Note
Crisis management is where it gets real as a leader. People like myself find it to be fun. The adrenaline rush, the problem-solving, the collaboration and the purpose driven effort we give as leaders is what it’s all about.
Just remember that being the best of the best in leadership means you’re ready for the unexpected. You’re the last line of defense. Your team is counting on you to be ready for the worst.