Crisis Management in Action

If there’s one thing that many leaders today can agree upon, it is that there is light at the end of the tunnel. After more than a year under COVID-19’s influence – the good, the bad, the ugly, and everything in-between – many countries around the world, including Trinidad and Tobago, are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel as more of a handle is gained on the pandemic. Or, more accurately, more of a handle seems to have been gained on our collective response/s to the pandemic.

But if we had to look at the entirety of what has happened so far, in terms of how leaders and our teams managed the crises, what grade would we give ourselves? Granted, different leaders have adopted different approaches to different situations, the one commonality is that we have each had our fair share of crises to manage. Not just manage, I might add, but to stay ahead of and, most of all, derive real opportunities from.

Crisis Management in the New Normal,br/> One of the most repeated lines in this era of the New Normal since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and its stark socioeconomic impacts has been (and continues to be), “You should never waste a crisis.”

And each time I hear it, I very much suspect that the quote, attributed to Sir Winston Churchill, has grown to become the modern-day gold standard attitude in terms of crisis management and crisis leadership.

It is encouraging to see more leaders actively approaching crises with positive mindsets; trying to recognise the opportunities for growth, development, and long-lasting change within every instance. As these businesses and their teams continue to adjust in the face of adversity, their stories inevitably become case studies for why and how having the right crisis management infrastructure is the missing ingredient in achieving success amidst any challenge.

But what exactly does that infrastructure entail? What does an organisation that has it look like? In a phrase, it looks exactly like yours and mine. But it can always be improved.

Be Prepared

Crisis Management begins long before the actual crisis hits. That infrastructure I mentioned earlier was not built the night before or the morning of a crisis. Not surprisingly, the plans that often are created in the spur of the moment don’t tend to last and it shows.

Being ready for crisis does not mean that we sit around and either wait for or invite them to happen. Effective crisis management and leadership demands a constant state of readiness, of being prepared, of being trained in the hope that the crisis never actually happens.

I recently met with some of my senior leadership teams in the East Caribbean. The meeting, while ostensibly about business plans we have for the upcoming quarter, was really about touching base with them, ensuring that they were doing well – both professionally and personally – and recommitting to that constant state of readiness for the unknown.

This is where I would like us to begin our chat about effective crisis management. I would like us to consider the idea that for every crisis successfully navigated, there are countless others around the corner; some that may prove overbearing…if we aren’t properly prepared to deal with them. Here are a few critical points that I would like us to consider in our crisis management strategies for the future.

Crisis Management … first, Self-Management
Before we even begin managing the crisis that is external to us, as leaders, we must first begin managing ourselves from within to deal with the crisis. There is a good reason why crisis management is an invaluable leadership skill. When a crisis strikes, people turn to their leaders; they turn to us for guidance, for inspiration, even for courage.

But you cannot get water from an empty well. Leaders, long before even attempting to navigate a crisis, must ensure that they themselves are well positioned to do so. We must ensure that we are well positioned to provide (at least) some of the character traits that our people are counting on us for. In whatever shape it takes, manage yourself first as a leader so that you can better manage any crisis.

Flexible Planning
As leaders, we have many responsibilities, included in which is the need to be proactive. Our business, our people, our livelihoods, just to name a few, all depend on our ability to analyse the present and make the necessary strategies and adjustments (often times on the fly) for the future.

A sound crisis management strategy may only be as good as the elements that it comprises but a great way to make it even better is to plan for those unknowns. Which, if we are being completely honest, we cannot always do. However, if we make our plans flexible, if we ourselves remain flexible, capable of adapting almost in step with the crisis, then our teams stand a great change of weathering the storm.

People Matter
Inasmuch as leaders are required to take charge in a crisis, it is equally important that they be able to remove themselves from the equation and focus instead on what is best for the company and on those who truly matter the most.

In a crisis, leaders need to be selfless. We need to connect with people; motivating and inspiring through our actions, and showing genuine compassion at every step of the way. This may sound like a tall order but you have to remember that during a crisis, people may be apprehensive, angry, or just plain scared. This is a time when they are deeply concerned about their most basic needs, and chief among those is the need to feel validated and safe.

Perhaps we can take a page from some of the great military leaders and how they act in times of crisis. Apart from having an almost singlemindedness in terms of launching their plans and offensives, they put the safety and well-being of others before themselves.

It may have become a trope at this point, but the military credo of “Never leaving a soldier behind” can be immensely instructive to us civilians. Look out for your people. Once their essential needs are considered and acted upon and their fears and concerns legitimately addressed, then leaders can quickly get down to the business at hand, shifting gears from reacting to a present situation to actively planning for what the future could bring.

Taking care of our people in times of crisis can lead to tremendous benefits, including generating greater alignment within the organisation, reaffirming common purpose, elevating others, and even seizing opportunities for growth. After all, it is our people whom we serve, so let’s continue serving them through difficult times.

So what do you think? So far, so good? What are your thoughts on Crisis Management and Crisis Leadership? Let’s see if we can pick up the rest in our next chat? Until then, take care and be safe.

Go to top