Great leaders thrive in a crisis. It’s when times are toughest and everyone around is shirking responsibility and running away, that great leaders shine. The greats don’t love crises. No normal person does. But a crisis seems to bring out the best in the greats, while at the same time bringing out the worst in others.

Crisis Leadership
Great leaders prepare for crises well ahead of time by creating a deep sense of trust among all members of the team. (Tweet That)

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So what separates the great leaders from the average ones?

1. Preparation

The first thing great leaders do better than everyone else is prepare for crises.

Crises are not dealt with properly the moment they occur. They are prepared for during all of the time you spend with your team up to that point.

If you are not overcommunicating vision, your team will not have buy-in. They won’t even care that there is a crisis. To them, this is just another job.

If you have not spent time with your team (together in meetings and individually doing one-on-one meetings), your team will not have the sense of ownership it desperately needs in a crisis. If you don’t invest the time getting to know them and treating them like family, they will not trust in your leadership.

Great leaders prepare for crises well ahead of time by creating a deep sense of trust among all members of the team. If someone is not pulling their weight, but the leader looks the other way or doesn’t handle it properly, trust is lost. If the leader says one thing to the boss and another to the team, trust is corroded. Trust is built in every meeting, every discussion, and literally during every minute of every day, inside and outside of the office.

2. Teamwork

After building a cohesive, trusting team, great leaders use them.

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It’s common during a crisis to “go solo.” Crises often cause leaders and team members to act as individuals instead of like teammates. Isolation creeps in easily. It becomes easier to worry more about your own personal problems instead of living out the vision of the team.

During a crisis, great leaders help their teammates refocus on the team. They take attention away from individuals and place it on the group. And every team is collectively much stronger than a group of individuals working separately, and often opposingly.

3. Attitude

When you have trust from preparation and you have great teamwork, crises become a chance to shine.

With the vision always in mind, crises are opportunities to show off, to work together as never before, and to overcome an obstacle together.

The attitude of the great leaders is that they relish the obstacles because they give them a chance to prove themselves. In a corporate environment, it’s a chance to show others how strong your team is. In a small business, when it often feels like you against the world, a crisis presents an opportunity to make a statement to an industry and to yourselves.

4. Openness

Open leadership is important all of the time, but even more so during a crisis. (That link will take you to a previous post on exactly that topic)

When your team doesn’t have all the facts, it makes it almost impossible to work effectively.

Great leaders provide their team with all of the information and resources they need during a crisis. A crisis is not the time to hold back…and great leaders hold back nothing.

What other traits do you see in great leaders during a crisis? 

22 thoughts on “What Great Leaders do in a Crisis | Leading in a Crisis

  1. Charly Priest says:

    I agree with what you´ve said, but I would like to add something else. Leaders have to be smart enough to surround themselves with people they trust and leaders should be open to hear the advice of the competent people they have hired to be on his team. When the crisis finally strikes, they have to make a decision, it can turn out good or bad, but you have, have to decide if you´re going right or left. Doing nothing is worst, you look weak.
    I saw this, in my humble opinion, with President Obama and the crisis in Syria. They had to know it was coming, they have all the resources that tells them it´s coming and he never made a move in the beginning, that´s crucial, making your move when the crisis starts regardless of what outside influences believe, make the move when you think it´s in the country´s best interest.(being public opinion in this case). Now is too late, rebels are mixed with terrorist and terrorist are mixed with the government of Syria. Who do you support now? Too late, only thing you can do is stay on the sidelines now for not acting, for not taking a decision in the beginning. Ironic he has the nobel peace price and now want´s to bomb the country and arm the rebels mixed with terrorist. I find this the perfect example of poor leadership during this particular crisis and a great example to analyse as to what not to do.

  2. Dan Erickson says:

    I actually tend to excel in crises situations. For some reason I’m able to keep my head together, think quickly, and respond in a way that deals directly with all aspects of the crisis. However, my crises have been more personal than professional over the years.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      For some reason, I too, thrive under pressure, but more so when it’s business than personal. I need to listen to my own advice and apply it to family. Thanks for convicting me Dan I know you didn’t mean to, but you did.

      1. Dan Erickson says:

        My crises tend to always be centered around family. That’s where I learned to deal with crisis.

    2. Charles Hutchinson says:

      I’m the same way. Nothing like the train coming off the tracks to calm the nerves.

      1. Matt McWilliams says:

        That is a cool way to put it Charles!

      2. Mark Sieverkropp says:

        Haha. It takes all kind of people! I’m not quite to that point, but a certain amount of stress helps me work more efficiently for sure! And welcome to the blog Charles!! Always awesome getting the perspectives of different people!

  3. Katherine Leicester says:

    Excellent post, Matt.

    I think also great leaders discover their greatness in a crisis, and not before. Remember WW II and England? Yeah, we don’t need that Churchill guy…. until the island is about to be invaded and help we need someone who can actually fight back and win. Yeah, where’s that Winston guy? Chartwell? Well, go and get him!

    And he promptly saved the free world, almost singlehandedly.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Just read a biography of Churchill. Love him!

      1. Katherine Leicester says:

        One of these days I am going to dress up in a Churchill-style suit, with cigar, and take a photo with my best Churchillian scowl.

        I will then post the pic on my wall to remind myself to be courageous, and to remember the Zander’s Rule Number 6 (Don’t take yourself so #&@? seriously).

  4. Zech Newman says:

    Good post Matt. As a leader if we are not that calm presence in the storm our teams fear will multiply.

  5. Jon Stolpe says:

    Great leaders can separate the emotion from the crisis so that decisions can be made rationally.

  6. Steve Pate says:

    Nice add with the dandruff! enjoying listening to your post, we get more of your feelings! And sweet groove in the back ground.

    Thanks again for the encouragement to tune out the pessimist voices around me and great job of turning it, to looking for the good and not just be a whiner with them!

    The one thing I have found with pessimist, when listening, just smile, and interject what is good, or just be silent.

    Your gifted brother and keep being you. What a great post to end the week!

    1. Steve Pate says:

      Sorry Matt,I met to post this on your post three days ago!

      1. Matt McWilliams says:

        HAHA! Thanks Steve.

  7. Charles Hutchinson says:

    A common thread I get from great leaders is the feeling (and comment), “We’ll get through this.” That attitude is reassuring and brings a sense of confidence to the team.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      You know, I thought about that…the one thing I might have missed is confidence or assurance. Belief is critical.

  8. David Bartosik says:

    It seems that direct speech becomes much more valuable when there is a crisis. You used the word openness I would use the word candid or direct. Be very candid about where you are and what you’re doing because it seems in crisis there is a lot more turbulent attitudes flying around that could quickly spin out of control worrying about decisions that are being made. Be candid and be direct. Leave no room for guessing.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Excellent point David. No secrets, no fluff, no sugar. Get to the point and stick to it.

  9. Tom Dixon says:

    Attitude is where it is at when it comes to dealing with a crisis – they can be a great opportunity to step up. I’ve had a few leaders set that example in the past – you have to have the relationship first, but a crisis is an amazing rallying cry.

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