Leading in Crisis

Author:   |   Date: 11/02/2014   |   Categories: Decision Making, Leadership, Leading in crisis, Mindfulness

Everything is easy when the stars line up. It’s when things start to go wrong that leaders are challenged.  Whilst some enjoy the drama of the crisis, for many of us it can impact on our confidence, decision-making skills and wellbeing.  Unfortunately if you step up to a leadership role in your own life or leading others you will at some stage face a challenge that will fundamentally affect your status quo.  Fortunately these are moments where you can most learn who you are and of what you are truly capable.  

In the not-for-profit, creative and cultural sectors there will always be the constant threat of funding cuts and changes in government priorities.  If you depend on government funding for a substantial part of your revenue the hard fact is that at some time you will be faced with the uncertainty of budget decisions.

What can you, as a leader, do in this situation?

There is no easy answer, however remember the following:

Breathe – when everything seems out of your control the one thing you may be able to do is breathe.  Brining your attention to your breath, not altering it, just observing it for as little as one minute can in that very moment reduce your stress and the “fight/flight’’ response.  

Breathe again – as Ghandi said “I have so much to do today I must meditate for two hours instead of one”.  Taking even more time out to steady yourself will allow you to respond to the situation with courage, compassion and creativity – not react from panic and confusion.

Collect and consider all the information that you have – If the crisis is a potential or actual funding cut, do you know what your financial situation is?  Do you know what your cash at hand is, what are your immediate liabilities?  What is your cashflow?  Can you meet your immediate costs and liabilities (including rent, wages, taxes owing, super etc) and keep your current level of operations for how long? What else is there? Call in your accountant and/or treasurer ASAP and make sure you have accounted for absolutely everything.  If it’s a non-financial issue (eg an accident or breakdown) contact your insurance company and broker.  This is the time when you need to know your facts.

Make decisions and take action – There may not be easy decisions to make but you will need to make them.  Even if the decision is to “do nothing” that’s a decision that may be your call.  Be clear what your range of responsibility is and consult as needed. But at the end of the day be willing to make the call on the basis that you are making the best decision you can with the information you have.

Plan your communication – You will need to tell a range of people about the situation and will want to be sure of your message.  Consider who you need to let know (board, staff, other funding partners, volunteers) and what questions will they have.  Develop a communication plan (if possible with your media, PR or another trusted adviser) and get on the front foot.  Everyone will appreciate honest communication from the leader, but don’t feel obliged to overshare.  However if you don’t get communicating a vacuum may develop, and rumours will fill that gap.

Have courage – Don’t be fooled – a crisis will test your leadership skills. For new leaders they may feel vulnerable and overwhelmed by the situation, including the additional responsibility of “holding the space”. Investigate what happened (if it’s unclear) but try to avoid recriminations and unnecessary blame (of yourself and others).  Have the courage and confidence to trust that you know what needs to be done.

Be supported – Ask for and get all the support you need, both at the time of crisis and afterwards.  Take care of yourself and let others help you in whatever way they can. Even if it is accepting a cup of tea or letting someone take some phone calls, your body, mind and soul will appreciate the nurturing and support. 

Relax and regroup – Once the crisis has passed, the decisions have been made, and the communication plan in action, call in your support team and debrief.  Keep this as a factual exercise (using a whiteboard can be helpful) so everyone can understand what happened.  See what can be learnt and where improvements could be made.  If there has been a fundamental shift in direction, this is a time to understand what it means for everyone effected and what plans need to be made.  The important thing is to signal that the crisis has happened, it cannot be changed, you can only all move forward together.

A time of crisis is not to be wished for but they will come.  Your ability to remain calm, confident and in control of yourself in these situations are the hallmark of leadership.   We all have this inherent ability so be confident that you will survive this moment and the next.   

“Never be in a hurry, do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset” – Francis de Sale



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