Leading During Times of Crisis Should Be the Default For All Leaders

Leading during times of crisis is catchy, and the cliched statement that only serves to catch the attention of Google SEO and social media searches.

As a catchy aphorism, does little to help leaders lead in practical ways. In particular when they are careening from one problem to the next, barely reacting, barely breathing, and barely demonstrating even the barest hint of the competence that they believed earned them the leadership spot.

Leading During Times of Crisis

COVID-19.

Police shootings.

Protests.

Rioting.

Unemployment.

Workplace disruption at a scale only imaginable under genuine land warfare conditions.

Supply lines depleted.

Resources—human and otherwise—being placed under stress.

There’s a list for 2020 if a leader ever saw one and it’s still only June.

The election campaign for the President of the United States is next along with QE-whatever-number-the-Fed-is-up-to-now, and so much more.

“The thing is, the apocalypse is ALWAYS on its way. Destruction is always happening.”

– Jordan Peterson

And that’s the problem.

Crisis is always here.

 The world is always “coming to an end.” And therein lies the secret of “leading during times of crisis” that the Harvard Business Review or some fancy organizational development trainer won’t tell you.

Leading During Times of Crisis is About Leading During Times of Safety

Leading during times of crisis requires leaders to get real about themselves, the reality of the situation they are facing, and to acknowledge the real, human costs of making decisions.

Leading During Times of Crisis 1

Some leaders are paralyzed into indecision by the nature of crises, tending to trend toward making the most milquetoast decision they possibly can to inflict the least harm on the greatest number of people.

Some leaders are barely disguised tyrants, cynically manipulating the “knock-on” effects of a crisis for their personal, maximum gain, or the maximum gain of those they have favored and selected to be in their inner circle.

Then there are the rarely discussed and often ignored, principled leaders. These are individuals who tell the truth as best they know-how about the crisis, seek to explain their decision making to their followers with clarity, candor, and courage, and then move to execute. These leaders are often confused with tyrants if they make a decision and execute in a manner that is disliked by followers, and observers. And sometimes, these leaders are confused with the vacillating milquetoast types because they choose to listen and respond, rather than merely react under pressure.

There is no guarantee that a principled leader won’t transform during the crisis—particularly as it drags on longer and longer without a clear resolution—into with a milquetoast or a tyrant.

The path of leadership is hard and unyielding, and if leaders don’t have a clear vision and a solid anchor, they will be swept away by either events or the followers they seek to lead.

The fundamental tragedy of leadership is that this can happen during the “good times” as well.

Leading During Times of Crisis Requires Principles to Act

Leading during times of crisis requires leaders to answer some simple, yet hard, questions about themselves, the crisis, their followers, the goals they seek to achieve, and the consequences they are seeking to avoid, or attract.

Leading During Times of Crisis

There are ten questions a leader should ask themselves before, during, and after a time of crisis to take their temperature and measure before the crowd—or the circumstances—do.

  • How am I oriented toward this crisis?
  • What are my core values?
  • Who am I seeking to please?
  • Which do I place more value on: being liked and popular, or being effective and unpopular?
  • What is the vision for success?
  • What goal are we seeking to attain?
  • What is the right thing, rather than the expedient thing?
  • When should I change course?
  • What are some of the long-term consequences I can’t see yet?
  • When will I have to change strategies again?

Yes, all of these questions are oriented toward the leader, the leader’s needs, the leader’s desires, and the leader’s posture toward the situation and circumstances that they are facing.

And for good reason.

After all, if the leader can’t answer these questions before, during, and after a crisis, how will the followers, the crowd, the customers, or the audience be able to as well?

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