How to Lead Through a Crisis

lead through a crisis

At work, not everything is smooth sailing.

When the alarm bells are ringing, and it appears the ship is sinking, everyone will look to you, leader, to help steer them through the crisis.

Except, there’s a small voice in your head that’s screaming too.

No matter whether it’s an unexpected merger, unplanned layoffs, or the day-to-day crises that come with managing customers or clients, it’s up to you to lead your team through whatever they may face.

Here are 4 Steps to Lead Through a Crisis

  1. Stay Grounded

Stay above the fray. That means if there’s uncertainty, no perpetuation of rumors, no gossiping, no “I told you so’s.” When things happen, people start talking, and it’s easy to pretend like it’s ok to talk about who’s next.

This isn’t high school.

Don’t let yourself be sucked in by the drama. Ask yourself: is this a big deal? Or are you (and others) making it into one? Take a minute to find the motivations behind the actions of others, and ground yourself with the knowledge that there’s a reason behind them.

As a leader, it’s your job to quell any rumors before they begin. Be accessible and transparent, especially if you don’t know the answers. Open up Q&A both at in-person meetings but also through anonymous channels, so people feel comfortable bringing up what they’re thinking. Stay honest, stay up front, and communicate, communicate, communicate. Having your team grounded is just as important as grounding yourself.

The most important thing to remember: you all still have your health, relative sanity, and the disruption of your jobs probably doesn’t mean the world will stop turning. Remind yourself (and others) of this fact.

Also read: 5 Habits That You Don’t Realize Are Undermining Your Leadership Potential

  1. Stay Strong

It may be that you’re upset, scared, or worried, too.

When you have to walk members of your team out the door, you’re going to get emotional. It’s deeply upsetting to see your secure, happy world be turned upside down, and to imagine that it’s you next. You’re in a high stress, high anxiety situation.

So is your team. They’re just as scared (if not more so) than you.

Even if you’re in the hot seat, maintaining grace and dignity is of utmost importance. Be the captain that goes down with the ship. Staying calm when you want to flip your desk over and throw a fit makes you look like the sane one in all of this chaos. Don’t let them see you sweat.

  1. Stay Helpful

Figure out what’s going on and start helping. Don’t just sit around and bemoan your topsy-turvy situation. If you set the example, others will follow, and together, you’ll recover.

If someone else is upset, comfort them. If someone got let go who didn’t deserve it, reach out to them and ask what they need. Write LinkedIn recommendations. Do whatever you can to help those around you. It takes your mind off of what’s going on and at the task at hand.

Sometimes, the most helpful thing you can do is to keep working. While that may seem impossible, putting your head down and trying to get a few things done (even if it’s organizing your inbox) will at least keep you busy enough to stay grounded and strong.

Remember that your team wants to stay helpful too. In this situation, you might be the enemy—and that’s not fun. Make it clear what resources are available to them to learn more; if those don’t exist, make them. Remember the scary situation they’re in and quell the panic by communicating. That means setting up individual meetings if need be and sending reassuring emails.

  1. Stay Connected

Above all, stay in touch with the people around you. Remember that they’re humans too, and they’re probably just as stressed and scared as you might be.

Connect with them on a personal or professional level by exchanging contact information and writing some old-fashioned thank you notes. Keep talking to your team, and don’t think they can read your mind. Instead, be a human! Set a reminder to keep in touch once a month or so–dinner, drinks, or a quick email—and keep that connection alive, especially if the crisis continues.

It’s in tough times that true leadership comes to the forefront, and that means following these tips, but also helping your team to follow them too.

Also read: Positive Leadership Workshop – Unlocking Organizational Growth Through Positive Psychology

About the Author

Kayla Lewkowicz hails from the small town of Hopkinton, MA, home of the Boston Marathon. A marketer by day and freelance writer by night, she's a passionate storyteller, reader, hiker, swimmer, runner, and eater. She loves connecting people and ideas and helping customers realize their full potential at Litmus Software. Like what she has to say? Subscribe to her blog or say hello on Twitter @kllewkow.