Essential Leadership Skills: Crisis Management

Crisis management

Essential Leadership Skills: Crisis Management  · 

 

Crisis situations will raise now and then in your own work, and within your team or the whole company. They often hit due to the occurrence of some unseen events or nasty surprises, or they can be raised by some oversights or mistakes in our work or planning. No matter what the cause, they pose a significant threat to our goals and results.

The ability to stay calm in the middle of crisis is one of the defining traits of the great leaders. When everyone is panicking, a leader controls his emotions and thoughts and takes control of the situation. Sometimes it seems that a leader is standing in the eye of the storm calmly and unmoved, while everything around him is whirling around in chaos and panic. A good leader can then calmly pull the rest of his team to the eye of the storm to safety, and then send them back again to solve the crisis, armed with proper plans and trust that someone is in control of the situation.

While this ability is more prevalent naturally with some people, it is also a very much a skill that can be learnt. Once you know the basics of how to handle a crisis, and you have a clear plan ready to be put in action, you are in a good position to survive the situation, and help everyone else to survive with you.  With experience, you will get much better at it. The beautiful thing is, that once you know that you are prepared to handle a crisis, they suddenly stop seeming so catastrophic and chaotic once they happen.

Crises very often result in panic and conflict once they really hit, and in this chaos, people try to solve the problems before even understanding what has caused them and what is their full impact. Without knowing these facts, it is, however impossible to decide what would be the most efficient method of solving the crisis. Some people jump immediately to accusations and try to find who is guilty for causing the crisis – and in the same time making sure that blame does not fall on their own shoulders.Crisis Management

Both of these first reactions are off course wrong ways to approach the situation and yield poor results while wasting time and effort. The best way to deal with the situation is to step back, take a few deep breaths and assess the situation with calm objectivity, and then proceed to systematically breaking it down to manageable pieces.  And only after this is done, you can start fixing the problems in a good order and with a calm mind.

The following process description goes into details, and thus the form is a bit tedious to read. It is however essential for you to know all of this, so that you will have a clear plan available, and can executive it effectively when the situation raises.

Process for crisis management

  1. Never panic. Stay calm and objective. Detach from your emotions as best as you can. Breathe deep, and step back from your immediate thoughts and ideas, to be able to see the whole picture.
  1. Accept what has happened and do not try to fight against the reality of the situation. Do not worry or start gossiping about the situation or the reasons.
  1. Do not waste any time on trying to find who is responsible.
  1. Calm the surrounding people, stop all the accusations, conflicts and running around trying to fix something before a clear assessment and plan is done.
  1. Focus all your efforts to the present reality, and assess the situation and clarify:
    1. What has actually happened?
      • Gather the available facts.
      • Identify the essential missing facts and set immediately to find or clarify them.
    2. What is the Impact?
      • Criticality: Is something really on fire? Are you endangering lives or just significant business results?
      • Urgency: Assess the time frame when you have to act. Is it minutes, hours, days or weeks?
      • Identify the impacted stakeholders. Who should be informed and when? In some cases, the speed of sharing information is essential for minimizing the damage, so make sure to take this into account, and act accordingly.
    3. Identify the actual problem.
      • Identify the root cause for the crisis. Dig deep enough to know that you have found the actual underlying cause, and you are not identifying only the symptoms. Again “5 whys” is a good tactic for this.
  1. Find the possible solutions
    1. Brainstorm possible solutions for the crisis.
    2. Choose the best possible solution available.
    3. If it is not certain that your first solution will solve the crisis, you should have a backup plan prepared while you are executing the first solution. Backup plan can be alternative solution, or further research for the cause of crisis while already executing the first proposed solution.
  1. Execute the solution.
    1. Execute the first solution with best possible speed and required quality. Get the best possible people and resources for the task.
  1. Verify the solution:
    1. If the solution is effective, move to step 10 (Inform stakeholders).
    2. If not, proceed with the backup plan, and go back to either step 7, or even back to step 6, if you suspect, that your initial analysis of the crisis wasn’t correct.
  1. Inform stakeholders
    1. Inform everyone affected about the crisis end, impact and possible follow-up actions.
  1. Set out to investigate the crisis and learn from it
    1. Analyse your implemented solution for the crisis, and decide if this is a permanent solution, or if it was a quick fix, and you still must implement a permanent solution.
    2. Analyse the reasons why the crisis happened
      • Verify the analysis of the root cause. ( “5 whys” is again a good tactic for this)
      • Analyse if the crisis was an unique occurrence (freak accident), or if it is something recurring, that could (and probably will) happen again if improvements are not done.
      • For a crisis that appear to be in recurring category, create an improvement plan (step 11 c.)
      • Often with unique accidents, the effort to prevent them completely can be too costly, so they have to be just accepted as risks, and dealt with only if they happen.
    3. Create an appropriate improvement plan to prevent crises from happening again in the future
      • This can be, for example improved process, improved quality controls, better trained people, better tools, new product design, or anything else you can think of and implement to prevent the same kind of situations emerging again.
    4. Once the plans are made, and improvements are on their way (or implemented), inform the stakeholders again to let them know you have taken actions to prevent the crisis happening again.

Handling a significant crisis situation well can be a make or break moment for your career advancement. It is a perfect opportunity to show what you are made of, and how you can handle yourself, and people around you in a very tight spot. So, be prepared, and once it happens, make sure you are in control of yourself, and then take control of the situation, as much as is needed from you in your current role. This is again a place where you might be stepping on some toes, but if you see, that there is no-one else handling the situation properly, step in and try to save the day. You can always say that you are sorry later, once the situation is clear.

Leadership skills: Crisis management summary

  1. Never panic. Stay calm and objective and detach from your emotions.
  2. Accept what has happened and do not try to fight against the reality of the situation
  3. Do not waste any time on trying to find who is responsible.
  4. Calm the surrounding people, stop all the accusations and conflicts.
  5. Assess the situation
    1. What happened?
    2. Why?
    3. Who are affected?
    4. How critical and urgent is the situation?
  6. Find the possible solutions
  7. Execute the solution with all the necessary resources
  8. Verify the solution
  9. Inform stakeholders
  10. Set out to investigate the crisis and learn from it

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