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Crisis Management – Lessons in Leadership

Thursday, July 23, 2015 - 18:29

Guest post by Alison Vidotto

Crisis management is not the recommended way to run a business, although I have come across those where it is the natural order of the day. Having a strong organisation based on systems and processes and leadership that is based on trust and communication can avert most crises, but not all.

We all face crises at different times, they are an inevitable part of running a business. Are they always a negative? I don’t think so. There are many positives that can be taken from a crisis, particularly on reflection.

When faced with a crisis it is interesting to see how people operate. They are pushed way out of their comfort zone and need to draw on inner strengths to step up and adapt to the challenging situation at hand. There are many lessons learned from within the dis-comfort zone.

As a leader, a crisis will test your competency on many levels. How quickly can you adapt and improvise? How well do you reassure your team and steer them in the right direction? How well do your team members respond and adapt? 

Realising that the expectations you had, that you planned and prepared for are not going to happen can be disheartening. Realising that instead you may be at great risk of further damage can create an elevation of stress levels across the team. As a leader it is your responsibility to manage and guide.

Sometimes you think you have prepared for every outcome, but there is always the unexpected.

A week after we refurbished our new office it was more than a metre under water. The Brisbane floods hit, totally unexpected and not something we could have planned for. Like most business owners we had no contingency plan. New carpets, new computers, new offices, all under a metre of filthy water. We had clients waiting, contractors starting and a business to run. We were definitely in crisis.

We did manage to recover and in record time thankfully. Looking back we learned the following lessons:

  1. Face the Challenge Head On

Time is of the essence when it comes to crisis, don’t ignore the signs or delay your response.  Because we responded to our situation so quickly we managed to get appointments with contractors, insurance assessors etc. before they became overwhelmed with a long wait list.

  1. Be conscious of your leadership communication style

In times of crisis your staff and clients will look for strong leadership, they want to know that you are in control and the situation is being handled well. Stay calm, strong and communicative to let everyone know that you are in control and reassure them that the crisis will be dealt with.

  1. Rally the team and include them in discussions

It is common for members of the team to have different perspectives and outlooks on a situation. By openly discussing the problems you face with your team you will benefit from their combined knowledge, experience and sometimes their great contacts in finding the solution.

  1. Be prepared to relax the rules

Crisis situations can call for decisions to be made without all of the facts present, be comfortable with it. We realised that decisions had to be made and quickly, they may not be perfect or as thoroughly researched as we like but action needed to be taken and we could always modify them later.

  1. Give employees the opportunity to step up

It’s interesting to observe how people react to a crisis, sometimes it’s in a way you least expect. Give your staff the opportunity to be involved in assessing and handling the situation and observe their behaviour. Removing standard organisational structures can bring a few pleasant surprises, and a few not so pleasant. You will gain an insight to your employees that only a crisis situation can provide.

  1. Systems are the backbone to your business

Leadership involves seeing the big picture which includes the basics necessary to keep your business on track. The electronics in our office were destroyed in the floods, access to our files was seriously limited. We learned that we needed to safely store our data where it was accessible off site. We now have manual external hard drive backup each week and we utilise cloud storage.

So the next time your business is facing a crisis (and unfortunately it will happen), remember that it can be an opportunity to strengthen and build your leadership skills. 

Alison Vidotto is an award winning author, professional speaker, CEO of Vidotto Group, leadership trainer and Founder and Managing Director of the Australian Charity for the Children of Vietnam.