Volume 12, Number 5
During Times of Crisis
Rolston and Ms. McNerney are CEO’s of IBossWell (www.IBossWell.com).
terrible and tragic events of September 11, 2001 have given us
much to think about.
Within minutes of these events many of us were wondering
what it all meant.
We looked to our leaders to provide answers, direction and
lessons are there in all of this for those of us who lead in more
What are some universal approaches to leading those around
us through difficult and confusing times?
While most of us won’t be called upon to lead in
situations like the U.S. President faces today, we may be called
upon to let our people know of layoffs, business calamities, human
tragedies or other events that cause people to look to us for
believe there are four basic elements to leading in times of
These include (1) being visible and available, (2) communicating
supportively, carefully and regularly, (3) controlling one’s
behavior and reactions, and (4) giving the situation perspective
to create alignment.
Let’s take each one and examine them for practical
- The faster you can become visible and available to people
following a crisis, the fewer rumors and stories you will have to
deal with later.
For the people we lead, these events can be terrifying,
unexpected and confusing.
They crave answers quickly from someone in charge.
Even if all we can say is that we are checking into the
situation and will provide more information as soon as possible,
we have gone a long way toward calming fear and concern.
Seeing a leader is critical and to the extent that you can
walk through your office or plant site, you should make the time
to do so.
Voice contact is also important although what are lost are
the visual cues that your presence provides.
explanations are important too, but not until after you have been
seen and heard. Never substitute memos or letters for the more
personal contact of face-to-face or phone.
The call for the President to speak to the nation on
television immediately after the terrorist plane bombings
continued to grow in volume and urgency until he was seen at a
press conference in Louisiana hours later.
His appearance was hindered by threats and other events
that we may not know of; however, we are confident it was held as
quickly as possible under the circumstances.
We point this out to underscore the people’s need in this
regard and urge you to give visibility a high priority.
– We all have a tendency to search our experience and
imagination for clues as to why something happens to us and to
construct theories to respond appropriately.
Leaders must take seriously the need to provide careful
explanations and information as quickly as possible, or people
will do this themselves; perhaps creating more chaos and
People need to be informed rapidly of any steps they need
to take, what the consequences are of the event and what this will
mean for the future.
If the event was planned by the company, as with layoffs or
mergers, leaders need to be fully briefed in advance and given
enough information so they can answer questions and make
appropriate decisions within their responsibility to move things
In unexpected circumstances, leaders need information as
soon as possible.
In the meantime, they can create calm and order by giving
people as much information as possible and having them focus on
tasks at hand.
important process is holding a safe and supportive forum where
people can express their thoughts and feelings, and feel that they
are being fully heard.
A leader does not need to have all the answers to the
questions and issues.
Providing an open ear and a firm shoulder to lean on
becomes tremendously helpful in such times.
Leaders can create a sense of order and encourage patience
in times of crisis, by holding these forums on a regular and
frequent basis, as appropriate.
Control – Especially in the case of unexpected events,
leaders will have their own reactions and needs for answers. They
will need to sort out fact from fiction and establish perspective
to know how to proceed.
This is not an easy thing to do.
It takes tremendous courage to rise to the call of
leadership during times of crisis, particularly when leaders are
trying to deal with their own fears, reactions and concerns at the
It is crucial that they take the time immediately, even if
it is only seconds, to become calm and clear about what they want
to lead their people to do and how they want them to view the
have all seen leaders who panicked, made faces or said regrettable
things in the heat of the moment. These
behaviors are nearly impossible to overcome later.
The memories of those we lead are long, and negative
impressions stick tenaciously.
These behaviors also set the stage for all reactions and
actions to be taken by followers.
Even simple gestures like eye rolling, winking, etc. can
cue people to the “real” situation, which they then perceive
is underneath what is publicly said.
Every word, deed or motion a leader makes in a time of
crisis is more highly scrutinized than usual.
Care, control and composure are crucial in difficult times.
Sincerity and authenticity are also critically important.
– Creating the big picture is one of the most critical
things a leader must do.
Taking all available information and putting it into an
historical or contextual perspective sets up the background within
which events unfold.
During this crisis, our nation’s leaders and the news
media have searched for related events in the past that help to
predict future actions and subsequent events.
Perspective is built from facts and figures culled from
other experiences and even unrelated areas that have relevance and
bearing on what is going on currently.
Our understanding of historical events in the Middle East
has helped to provide perspective, as has information about what
families and survivors needed following the tragedy in Oklahoma
Leaders must call on their life experience and knowledge of
the past to help create a bigger picture.
When multiple leaders are involved in a situation they
should use the same examples and interpretations where possible,
to create a seamless impression of events for their people.
is a very demanding role and important even in our routine daily
Leadership isn’t easy, and takes constant vigilance to do
Everyone makes mistakes; but for leaders, they are
multiplied by the number of followers and the number of people
those followers influence.
The most important qualities a leader needs are the
courage, desire and will to lead well.
If you have these you will rise to the occasion as life’s
challenges present themselves.