We often think a crisis as a flood, fire or other disaster. But a crisis can be caused by a death, an organizational change or any event that rattles an organization to the core. A crisis casts a long shadow into the future and threatens the very core of your being.
How do you make good decisions when events are confusing?
How do you decide what’s important when the decisions you make today will impact a future you can’t imagine?
Relying on strong values in a crisis
I led the disaster management team for Canada’s largest NGO and probably one of the most dramatic moments of pressure for me was 9/11. The images and story of that day have been told many times and do not need to be repeated.
But on news of the event, my mind immediately began to focus on what decisions I needed to make quickly to keep the organization from panicking, to focus my team on the right work. At the same time, I had to respect the volunteers and staff worried about their families and friends.
As we had people & operations spread all over Canada, the first message I sent out was for everyone to pause and breath. I needed people to calm down, and then I started issuing gentle instructions: those worried about their families could leave. We had to find our people who were travelling to ensure they were safe.
The people who were willing to stay on the job were put to work on planning and providing solutions. We organized a conference call for all of our people and explained that whatever happened we would be using our organizational values as the base of our actions.
Be aware of the effects of stress
Typically, the stress you feel during a crisis is caused by fear, anticipation and desire:
- Fear of disaster
- The anticipation of the outcome
- The desire for it all to be over and get back to normal.
This fear will put unbelievable pressure on you to make decisions, solely to give the impression of doing something. You must understand that every decision you make expends your energy and organizational resources – energy you need to stay strong and lead.
Studies have shown that you can make 12 decisions a day. Make sure your decisions are focused on live safety and the survival of your organization – not the type of pizza needed for lunch.
The leadership role
To be effective, you need to discover what the real problem is. A challenge as you will face a tsunami of information – most of it inaccurate. It’s your task to discover the truth by asking the right questions, listening, and being present with your people.
A leader in a crisis responds by:
- Facing the crisis and building energy through positive action
- Being vigilant for new developments and information
- Maintaining focus on the priorities
- Assessing and responding to what is in your control and setting aside what isn’t.
When taking action, you should do these 4 actions to resolve the crisis:
- Act. Once you understand the problem, you will see that there are only a couple of realistic options open to you. Make a choice and act. General George Schwarzkopf often said that the quality of your decision does not increase beyond knowing 75% of the information available. So act.
- Get everyone together. You have the power to draw people together to act as a team. If your people know you are in charge, they will respond to your direction.
- Don’t look for blame. There will be an impulse to find blame. But scapegoating is counterproductive. Focus on the crisis, not on blaming others. After the crisis, it will be up to you to analyze the actions of others, but at the moment focus people on what needs to be done, not on who was at fault.
- Do what needs to get done. In normal times, rules, policies and budgets are created to provide processes for the normal course of business. However, most rules were not created with a crisis in mind. Do whatever has to be done, and don’t worry about the ‘rules’!