Three people climbing a hill while holding hands; person at the front holding a red flag.

How to Lead Amid a Crisis

Jessica Harp
April 22, 2021

As you well know, a crisis is rarely planned for and definitely never welcome, but they happen whether you’re ready or not. And as a leader within your organization, all eyes will be on you when it comes to what to say and what to do in an effort to lead your staff and community through it. You are the pillar that everyone will look up to when a crisis hits, and it is your duty to lead calmly, thoughtfully and with purpose. 

What to Do Before a Crisis Happens

As mentioned, a crisis is rarely planned for. However, there are things you can do before one rears its ugly head to help mitigate the damage it may do. 

Strengthen Relationships With Staff

When things go south, people panic—it’s a given. Worry and uncertainty take over and even the best staff members prepare an exit strategy and sometimes actually leave for something else that may seem like a safer alternative. So before a crisis happens, it’s always best to continually work on building healthy and strong relationships with your staff and with each other. You are going to need key staff members to have faith in your leadership and in your organization. Having multiple members jump ship amid a crisis only makes things worse, so in building relationships, you’re able to build their trust in you and in the organization as a whole. 

Routinely meet with staff (together or one on one), and give them a safe space to express their doubts, their worries and even their wins. Assuage their concerns while also lifting them up and letting them know how important they are to the organization. Give them a sense of comfort and security; assure them that they made the right choice in working with you and your organization. Cultivate trust.

Make it a point to do team-building exercises or field trips outside of the workplace, as well as create opportunities for a get-together that doesn’t require any required activities. Cater lunch, set up a happy hour or even sporadically give your staff gifts to show how much they mean to you. Taking the time to make each and every staff member feel special, needed and important builds their confidence in you and the organization.

What to Do During a Crisis

Preparing for a crisis will only get you so far; it’s what you do as a leader when a crisis hits that will help ensure the future of the organization in which you lead. 

Be Compassionate

A crisis can and will test everyone involved, as well as throw unexpected curve balls that can be hard to navigate. Everyone has their own lives and issues, and when a crisis hits, those issues can become magnified. It’s during this time that you should be especially compassionate toward your staff and community. 

It’s through compassion that you’ll build stronger relationships with staff (and even your community members). It will help them have more trust and confidence in you as a leader and in the organization. 

As a leader, you will have to make tough, strategic decisions that will disappoint some people even if it’s best for the community and organization as a whole. However, with compassion, you’ll be able to do these hard things while demonstrating your humanity. It’s a tough balancing act but one that can be achieved while doing what is best for your staff, your organizing and your community.

Be Calm

It’s imperative that in times of crisis you remain calm. This may be a given, but keeping your cool can be an especially difficult thing to do when a crisis feels catastrophic. We are biologically wired to have a stress response  (fight, flight or freeze) when confronted with volatile environments, unpredictable events and constant stress. However, as a leader you can prepare yourself to respond to those stressors in a calm manner that will benefit not only you, but also your staff, organization and community.

According to McKinsey & Company, to remain calm during a crisis leaders must practice integrative awareness: being aware of the changing reality in the outside world and how you respond to it emotionally and physically. This intentional practice allows leaders to shift from viewing challenges as roadblocks, to seeing them as problems to be solved and learned from. This is a deliberate choice that can help you take a step back and respond in a calm manner instead of being reactionary, and responding in a manner that is potentially detrimental.

Communicate Effectively

During a crisis, people within your organization and your community will be paying even more attention to what you say and how you communicate. The desire for guidance and transparency is heightened, and people are looking toward you as a leader to communicate effectively about how to navigate through the issues at hand. 

Your words and even your actions will bring comfort and help your staff and community to adjust and cope. There is a lot of uncertainty during a crisis, and those who look to you for guidance will find solace in your actions. They are looking to you to restore faith. 

McKinsey & Company states that superior crisis commentators tend to do these five things:

1. Deliver communication when necessary and needed. People want to be as up-to-date as possible during a crisis. As a leader, it's your responsibility to deliver that communication and keep your staff and community informed. This will make them feel safe, and be able to cope and connect. 

2. Communicate clearly and often. During the early part of a crisis, people’s ability to absorb pertinent information is limited, so keep your focus on assuaging the worries of your staff and community. 

3. Be honest and as transparent as possible in all communication. Your staff and community trust you as their leader and will appreciate open and honest communication. 

4. Strengthen bonds and restore confidence within your staff and community through your communication. 

5. Find meaning within the crisis to help you establish a vision and a roadmap for how your organization and community will come out of it stronger and build a better future together.

Help Your Team Grow

When a crisis hits, a leader is faced with many choices, and oftentimes staff members are either left to their own devices or their wants and needs are pushed aside. Instead of pushing them aside, use a crisis as an opportunity to grow your staff and organization to change for the better. Recovering from a crisis is necessary, but being changed by a crisis is an opportunity for greater things that can positively affect the staff and organization as a whole.

Instead of asking employees to return to normal after a crisis, ask how you and your organization can grow through it and help your staff and community do so as well. Ask yourself how your organization can help staff and the community work through the trauma of a crisis, increase well-being, create resiliency, affirm values and support everyone, then follow through.

ACTIVE Network Is Here For You

ACTIVE Network's all in one solution is here for you when you need it. Through ACTIVENet and Camp & Class Manager, organizations are able to streamline operations, engage community members and manage participation--making things easier for you when a crisis hits.

ACTIVE’s intuitive, easy-to-use products provide organizations like yours with the ability to build close-knit, strong communities though comprehensive marketing and communications tools, as well as easy online registration, for all your organization’s programs, camps and classes. Connect with us today to see how ACTIVE can help set your organization and your community up for success!

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