There’s likely not a leader whose leadership wasn’t tested in some way in 2020. Everyone, from first-level leaders to executives and CEO’s found their skill and resilience was tested during this challenging year. It was a lesson that caused many leaders to recognize they weren’t prepared for the crisis that arrived. It also drove many toward investing in their leadership growth and development – at all organizational levels.

While the world went through something most of us hadn’t experienced in our lifetimes, crisis in business became inevitable, and understanding what it takes to lead through crisis can make the difference between business success and failure.

Michael Hyatt, former CEO of a $250 million dollar publishing company and world- renowned author, speaker and leadership coach, talks about the importance of leading effectively, with confidence, through a crisis. “Leaders struggle with confidence at the best of times,” says Hyatt, “it’s double and triple during crisis. Most of us revert to FIGHT   FLIGHT  or FREEZE when faced with things that we haven’t encountered before, or that cause us to feel completely overwhelmed or out of our element.”

Clear thinking and strategic flexibility, suggests Hyatt, is the most important thing to implement when leaders face crisis. Resisting the temptation to act out of fear, anxiety, or the absence of a plan can lead to the wrong decision, which erodes leadership confidence. Thinking clearly and acting strategically increases confidence, which is what people in crisis want to see in their leaders. Your team may be freaking out, but you maintain calm for them by stepping back and analyzing what’s needed and making courageous, reasoned decisions instead of reacting.

Here are some steps to confident, courageous leadership during times of crisis.

RECOGNIZE the current circumstances

Acknowledge the realities of what’s happening. Your team can see – or if not see, sense – that things are not right. An inauthentic optimism that indicates everything will be all right, when it clearly won’t, doesn’t instill confidence in those you lead, and can in fact exacerbate the anxiety they are already feeling. Leaders need both the honesty to face reality and the faith that they’ll prevail in the end. It’s OK to admit to your team that things are looking grim, or scary, but that together you’ll find a way through. Even if hard decisions need to be made, your team will appreciate being given the trust and respect that they can handle it.

BE AWARE OF your own reactions

We often find our true selves when faced with crisis. When we are leading others, it’s imperative we are in touch with our inner selves and resolve our internal issues so they don’t impact our leadership. This can come in the form of limiting beliefs, negative self-talk, emotional spirals, fear-based decisions and loss of control. It can stimulate a scarcity mindset that motivates a desire toward self-preservation above all else.

You will have emotions. You will have fears and anxieties, but how you deal with them will determine what happens in your organization; whether your team sticks with you or jumps ship. Whether the decisions you make are good, strategic, and long-term rather than reactive in the short-term.

  • Use other leaders, either in your organization or other business leaders, as sounding boards or supports when you’re feeling out of control. Guaranteed, there’s others out there experiencing what you are, and there’s comfort in knowing you’re not alone.
  • Get outside perspectives to ensure your inner compass isn’t out of alignment.
  • Watch your inputs and outputs. A reasonable amount of input – whether it’s news, social media or browsing the internet – may be necessary to ensure you have accurate information, but there comes a time when it hinders more than it helps. Know when it’s time to shut it off and focus on innovation and problem-solving.
  • Remember your resources. This probably isn’t your first crisis and won’t be your last. Look at how you’ve survived hard things in the past and take courage in the resilience you showed. Think about what you did to navigate hard things before. What got you through? What can you draw on now to make it through this time?

ASSESS your vulnerabilities

Conduct a worst, medium and best-case scenario given your current circumstances. Think through what things would look like in each scenario and see where you are most vulnerable. Can you shore up your business in some way, even if the worst happened? Simply knowing what the worst case looks like can give you confidence that you can create a plan to mitigate it.

Mitigate the risks. When you have a clear picture in front of you, you can start planning for each scenario. Get creative. Think about how you can do things differently. Explore new opportunities.

Prioritize what you need (Cut costs? Lay people off? Rethink service areas? Re-evaluate your workforce plan? Re-deploy team members? Take out a loan?)  Use your team members or other organizational leaders to brainstorm through your scenarios and benefit from the collective wisdom around you.

RESPOND in a thoughtful, strategic manner

When you’ve done the internal work and allowed that to direct your thinking, it’s time to respond.

  1. Summarize your plan – the simpler it is the better. Your team needs a clear way forward.
  2. Involve your leadership team – your plan is a draft. You need their feedback to make sure you have the right perspectives.
  3. Communicate with your team – this is essential to success. Be transparent and honest. Let them know the truth and explain the rationale behind your plan.
  4. Acknowledge what they are feeling – don’t minimize fears by dismissing them. Be authentic about your own emotions and assure them you are working in their best interests.
  5. Communicate with your customers – this is your opportunity to shine. It is a chance to serve them even better. Being transparent with them will set you apart from others who deny what’s happening, or who are dishonest about it. Let them know what they can expect and for how long. If customers believe you’re being honest, they’ll stick with you no matter what.
  6. Revisit your plan often during the acute phase of the crisis – make sure that you’re not ignoring shifts in the environment and be agile in how you adapt to each twist and turn. This will allow you to stay on top of things more accurately and make appropriate adjustments before it’s too late.

Leading through crisis is not easy. Your team will be confused, overwhelmed, fearful, or anxious. In fact, YOU may be feeling those things. But when you’ve taken the time to be clear and strategic you can be confident in your plan and courageous to take action.