Category Leading In A Crisis

Do You Want to Improve Your Leadership Experience? STOP Solving Problems!

An emergency requires quick decisions and clear instructions.

There may be a little time for a discussion with your team.

However, a vast majority of cases do not require an immediate decision.

There is almost always time for the team to consider the situation and come up with solutions.

A thoughtful Leader needs to take time to let others react to the situation.

You have to create space for open decision-making for the entire team, even if that space is only a few minutes long.

This is harder in strict top-down leadership structures because leaders must solely anticipate decisions and alert their teams of any upcoming decision points. In a top-down hierarchy, there is no need for subordinates to think ahead because the boss will decide when required.

How many times do issues that require decisions come up on short notice?

If this regularly happens, you have a reactive organization in a downward spiral. When problems aren’t foreseen, the team doesn’t get time to think about them, a quick decision is required from the boss, which doesn’t train the team, etc., etc.

You need to change the cycle.

Here are a few ways to get your team thinking for themselves:

– If the decision needs to be made urgently, make it. Then explain why later, when there is time and then have the team ‘Red Team’ the decision to evaluate it.

Read about ‘Red Teamin’

– If the decision needs to be made on short notice, ask your team for input, even briefly, then make the decision.

– If the decisions can be delayed, push it back to your team to provide input. Do not force the team to come to a consensus. Consensus is a lazy leadership style that silences differences and those in dissent. Cherish dissent. Remember, if everyone thinks as you do, you don’t need them.


Who would have thought that in 2022 a worldwide pandemic would have been the least of our worries?

It seems quaint now that Europe is on the verge of the Thord World War.

Here in Canada, we witnessed a horrifying mass-murder

And of course, the recent loss of Queen Elizabeth seems to have cast a pal across our country, Britain and the Commonwealth 

We watch the news with fascination and horror over recent events and concern.

I have spent quite a bit of time with clients, prospects and friends and what the rest of the world is missing is that most are horrified by recent events.

Fear for their Nation, families, communities, lifestyles, and livelihoods.

In short, they are scared and living in scary times.

If you are a leader, you carry a responsibility to deal well with scary times, for your conduct impacts not only those in your personal life but also employees.

What follows are several thoughts for leaders concerning yourself, your family, your company, and your community.

Leading Yourself through Scary Times

Your employees deserve better than you being an ass.

1)  Watch your stress – A contagious virus or an insurrection is undoubtedly something to take seriously. Nothing is gained, however, from adding stress and anxiety to the situation. It is a challenge dealing with these big hairy ugly problems that are entirely out of your control. Still, if individuals in leadership positions exhibit unnecessary anxiety or stress, one problem turns into two: the original problem and our stress level. It can be helpful to remember that few things are either as good or as bad as reported.

If you feel anxious, turn off the TV, Twitter or the radio, disconnect for a couple of hours from the relentless pounding of hyperbolic news and get outside. Distance and open space give perspective – something that is easily lost when caught up in the whirlwind.

2)  Take care of yourself – it is an excellent time to get some rest and make sure your health stays good. Eat well, exercise, and carve out some “you time” – this is not a selfish notion. It will help to ensure that your decision-making remains sound.

3)  Know that it will end – It is unhelpful to put a date on the calendar when you suspect things will be better because you have no control over that.

In the middle of crises, the world seems to shrink around us, and all we can see is the scary mess of the current situation. At those times, it is helpful to raise your chin just a bit, look out further, and remind yourself that time will move on and things will improve.  

Leading your Family through Scary Times

1) Don’t get too caught up in business – If you are a leader within your organization, you are rightfully concerned about your business and your employees. Attend to that, but don’t lose sight of your family. They may also be scared. Your kids need to see a parental role model who projects strength and calmness. Your significant other needs a full partner. You need not have all the answers – you need to be there – not just in body, but fully present with your heart, mind and ears.

2)  Be Together – Scary things can sometimes make us reassess what is important in our lives. We can often get great strength from our family and friends – and we should openly turn to them at times of stress. 

Read about being exceedingly human.

Leading your Company through Scary Times

1)  Opportunity #1 – I recently talked with a good CEO who noted that as his company has been reacting to the rapidly changing operational landscape for their business, they have come up with some ideas that should have been implemented earlier. Adversity sometimes gives us the kick in the rear needed to make changes we should have made long ago.

2)  Opportunity #2 – If you are in a leadership position, make sure to note those staff members who show up ready to help when you need it most. It is a chance to identify your real Stars – the people you want to invest in.

3)  Opportunity #3 – Do your best to treat your staff well through this difficult period. The company is under stress, but so are your employees and their families – they are scared too. You are on stage right now. Your employees are watching how you respond. Thoughtful acts of kindness and understanding will be magnified and remembered – so act accordingly.

4)  Opportunity #4 – This is a hard one, but accept there will be a financial hit. That is how the world works: things go up and down. When customers are being hit with adversity and are fearful, be as generous as you can with customers under stress. When you respond to their needs with understanding and kindness, you are taking the opportunity to improve your business relationship toward more of a full partnership. 

5)  Be the Chief Reminder Officer – More is better regarding communication. In the present situation, many will be working remotely for the first time. Don’t worry if your communication is repetitive – repetition can be reassuring. It is also okay to share concerns – your employees are not children and can deal with reality. If you fail to communicate, their imagination will fill in the gaps with fears worse than reality.

Read about being the CRO

Closing Thoughts

Watch for Emotional contagion – There is a psychological phenomenon called emotional contagion that can infect a group, a business, a town, and even a nation. It refers to a human tendency to mirror or take on the emotions of those with whom we interact. It is particularly evident when the emotion being spread is fear – and as mentioned above, fear is the emotion that negatively impacts decision-making, which is one of the most important things a leader must do. 

Humans are drawn to drama, and the pessimists among us seem odd to enjoy being on stage – those two factors make for a bad combination. You can help to stop the spread of emotional contagion  by:

  1. Being mindful of the phenomenon so you can resist it,
  2. not constantly reading the latest “news” on the concerning situation at hand from such questionable sources as your inbox, Facebook, and Twitter,
  3. staying informed, but only at reasonable intervals and exclusively from reliable sources,
  4. stop making every conversation in your day about the frightening topic,
  5. actively reminding yourself and others of the blessings all around, and
  6. graciously accepting what you can and cannot control.

You, my friends, will successfully come through this and even thrive if you focus on taking care of yourself, your family, your business, and your community.

And remember the great Canadian philosopher, Red Green, advice:

Monsters Under The Bed – How To Remove The Bogey Man From Organizational Change

People Fear Change!

Just like they fear monsters under the bed …

or behind the closet door …

or what lurks down those cellar steps.


Two reasons:

  1. We can’t see what’s there so our imagination fills in the blanks … As kids we imagined monsters, as adults we don’t like change so we imagine job loss, upset and disaster.
  1. Like a horror movie we know that the first person to go down those stairs is going to get killed …Most of us have lived through a change management exercise they did not go well and we ended up worse off than when we started.

Watch the Vlog to see how we as leaders can take fear out of the equation and give our hopes and aspirations for organizational change the best chances for success.


Alan Mulally Was Losing $17B A Year, Yet Every Management Dashboard Showed Green Lights – Learn How He Changed Accountability At Ford

Imagine taking over a company that was losing $17 Billion each and every year.

That is SEVENTEEN BILLION DOLLARS. Each year. And, every year.

Billions with a “B.”

This was the situation Alan Mulally faced when he was recruited away from Boeing to lead the failing Ford Motor Company.

While chairing a worldwide leadership meeting, Mr. Mulally looked at a dashboard that showed ‘green-lights’ on every department, division and product. He asked himself and then the attendees, “if everything is going so well, why are we losing $17B.’

Mr. Mulally spoke at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, where he discussed the turnaround efforts at Ford, which took the automaker from an annual loss of $17 billion in 2006 to its most profitable period in more than a decade.

Mulally explains that leadership takes courage, has a point of view about the future, and pursues it in the face of resistance and doubt in service of something great.

The entire video is excellent and well worth your time to watch

But if time is short, skip ahead to the 24:11 mark and watch the segment on building accountability (approx 9 minutes)


7 Steps To Leading in A Crisis: Don't Be an Ass

4 Things You Need To Do Before The Next Crisis “Nobody Saw Coming”

As we navigate one of the biggest global crises many of us will ever experience in our lifetime, people around the world are in a state of what’s known as crisis management. While managing crises seems like an effective solution, it just means we’re in a constant state of doing the bare minimum to keep our head above water.

Of course, some crises are out of our control. But what we DO have control over is taking steps to be prepared (physically, mentally, financially, emotionally, and so on) for whatever life throws our way. We can also be proactive in dealing with problems as we encounter them.

What is crisis management?

Crisis management happens when you’re too busy dealing with the problem at hand so small emergencies grow into large problems or crises. We become overwhelmed rather than investing time and resources into long-term solutions…Solutions that could prevent the crisis from occurring in the first place.

If you’re constantly in a state of crisis management, chances are your productivity is almost nil. And your nerves are likely shot.

I heard from a reader who was struggling with crises or emergencies that continually get in the way of their priorities. Now, I’m not 100% sure what’s going on in this person’s life. But if crises and emergencies are routine, then they aren’t crises and emergencies…They’re normal life for that person.

It reminds me of an old story about a suitcase manufacturer based in Montreal.

They made beautiful, high-quality suitcases that people might have used during the glory days of plying the seas via ocean liner. Sadly, they were slowly going out of business. People were no longer sailing. Instead, they were flying and required smaller suitcases.

When asked why this company didn’t start making small suitcases, they responded resolutely that they “couldn’t switch over because they were too busy making large ones!”

The suitcase company was in a state of crisis management. So, what can be done to put an end to crisis management and deal with problems as they come our way?

By the way, don’t miss this post where I share the three things you need to lead through a crisis.

Got a problem? Fix it NOW!

If you’re going to put an end to crisis management, you’ve got to get out in front of the problems. You need to stop them before they occur.

It’s not that small business owners and non-profit leaders DON’T want to nip problems in the bud. But doing so requires the two precious commodities we’re usually short on, time and money.

And since there are always more tasks than people to do them, it’s easy to see why crisis management is a problem.

Or why during a crisis we just keep making large suitcases instead of biting the bullet and switching over to what our customers want.

When you’re fighting for your life, the urge to stay with what you know and where you are comfortable is natural and completely understandable.

You begin to feel like you’re sinking. Your perspective is diminished. Short-term survival instincts kick in.

You can’t manage if you’re always in a crisis.

If you’re dealing with competing priorities, it can turn into a form of crisis management. Click here for some actionable steps for dealing with competing priorities.

How to eliminate crisis management

You didn’t get to where you are all at once. You did it one small step at a time.

So you shouldn’t be surprised when I tell you that it’s the same as eliminating crisis management.

Here are some steps to consider:

  1. Where did it start? The next time you’re faced with a problem, ask yourself and the people around you where it began. Find the true cause of the problem. Even if you don’t have the time or resources to fix the fundamental cause of the problem, just by identifying it, you’ve made progress in eliminating crisis management in your organization.
  2. What are the quick wins? There probably are many problems that can be fixed by making small changes.
  3. Are there sacred cows? These issues sound like, “We’ve always done it that way.”
  4. What is your collective intellectual horsepower? Ask your staff, Board, or a mentor for their thoughts and suggestions for improving the organization.

Like the suitcase company, if you’re too busy dealing with the crisis to fix the causes, you’ll be stuck with a failing enterprise.

Only by fearlessly shining a light on what’s going on in your company will allow you to identify – then fix – your problems.

If you’re interested in going even deeper or moving your career to the next level, you’ll also want to have a look at my 1-on-1 coaching services.

If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check these out, too:

A Curated List of Crisis Leadership Articles
9 Stupid Management Practices (and what to do instead)
The 6T’s To Know What To Delegate

This article was originally published on September 25, 2015, and has been updated.

4 Ways Forward When There is No Map

​ The coronavirus pandemic has generated tremendous uncertainty for businesses. But while the scale of the crisis is new, uncertainty itself is not—it’s a natural condition of doing business, and numerous tools exist to quantify and mitigate it.

 Most strategies rely on accumulated knowledge from the past—there’s a precedent on which to make sense of unknowns. COVID-19 breaks all that.

There is no precedent for how to respond to this moment, much less steer ahead.

 The biggest challenge to businesses right now isn’t uncertainty, but ambiguity—a condition in which the future is unclear, the past is no help, and we don’t even know what we don’t know. There’s no predicting when the pandemic will end, nor what “business as usual” will look like when it does.

Understanding that organizations are facing a broad range of challenges and have varying capacities, the question becomes, how might businesses create new ways to push ahead intelligently?

Being exceedingly human can offer leaders an alternate set of mindsets and methods for navigating ambiguity.

Here are four ways forward, along with inspiring examples and questions to drive action.

Read about the crisis no one saw coming.

Lead with people, and the business will follow.

Perhaps the most well-known design thinking model suggests that innovation occurs at the intersection of what the consumer wants, business viability, and technical feasibility. Many leaders are mired in thinking about what’s possible in this new world (technical feasibility) and what the economic impact of COVID-19 might be (business viability). While a pivot of your business model may be critical to staying afloat, it’s essential not to forget to lead with people.

Focusing on customers’ needs is a way to rally a company and employees around a purposeful cause.

It also offers focus and clarity operationally and strategically and points to a clear path forward that can deliver value. 

Questions to inspire action: 

  • How are our core customers’ needs changing right now? How can we deliver on those needs during the pandemic?
  • Who can we learn from in our organization that is closest to the needs of our people, partners, and consumers? Better yet, how might we engage with our people, partners, and consumers directly to learn from them?


Forge unexpected partnerships

Read  more about partnering up with your boss

Part of what makes the current changes, so complex is their scale.

It’s inspiring to see examples of companies redirecting their capabilities toward urgent needs—distilleries using their alcohol to produce hand sanitizer, automakers shifting to produce ventilators and respirators. But this kind of quick adaptation isn’t simple, and the opportunity isn’t always clear. Stepping outside of our domains and even our companies to connect can help. 

Pivoting calls for processing viewpoints from different departments and types of thinkers. Some companies are relying on open innovation, which can be used internally to break down silos, or externally to find new partners to bring ideas to life.

Leaders need to challenge their humility and courage and open up to anyone involved in business to work together to find partners, develop new offerings, and secure funding. 

Questions to inspire action: 

  • What points of view are we missing on our team, and how might they help us uncover opportunities and identify blind spots? 
  • Who can we partner with right now to deliver something unique or previously impossible to our teams, business, or society?


Experiment today to strengthen the business for tomorrow 


The time has never been better to experiment. This means considering fundamental changes in business and operating models out of necessity, while also prototyping new channels, offerings, pricing structures, and value propositions. 

Experimenting doesn’t have to result in a full-scale business model transformation or a polished new offering. This is a moment of extreme leniency: Customers will forgive scrappiness and even mistakes, and they’ll appreciate effort and vulnerability from organizations that try. Moreover, experimenting in low-fidelity ways allows teams to iterate, minimize costs, and preserve optionality quickly. In other words, there’s little investment required for a potentially high return.

Read about driving innovation through curiosity.

Questions to inspire action: 

  • If we’re in an all-hands-on-deck moment, is there a group of employees that can start to think about how we might operate differently during COVID-19?
  • What are simple experiments we could run in the next few days?
  • If we’re able to dedicate time and resources, how might we use this moment to challenge the fundamental assumptions of our business and industry?
  • What are the simple experiments we could run in the next few weeks?


Leverage scarcity 

It’s understandable to feel an overall sense of scarcity right now.

Organizations are inundated with legal, health, social, and operating constraints. It may seem counterintuitive, but limitations often create generative circumstances for growth and innovation. A recent study on innovation in crisis found that during the Great Depression. At the same time, the total number of patents decreased, but the average level of quality increased, which increased the overall impact of the innovation.

Questions to inspire action: 

  • How might we turn these new constraints into the cornerstones of our business?
  • What is the core promise or value we provide to customers?
  • How might we repurpose the assets that we still have to keep delivering on this promise or value?

 Please read about my biggest business mistake

Final Thoughts

We are in challenging times.

Leaders are called to make difficult decisions about strategy, operations, and people.

As we continue to navigate these uncharted waters, we can find ways for ambiguity to be an aid rather than an impediment to progress.

Human led mindsets like empathy, collaboration, experimentation, and even scarcity can be guiding lights along the way.