Discover more from How to Lead Everybody (with their permission)
Crisis leadership is not in everyone’s wheelhouse.
When the proverbial <bleep> hits the fan, are you still able to function well? Are you able to function at all?
When we are in a crisis—even if our scale of crisis is more likely to be: “Our supplier is going to be three weeks late on that delivery we were counting on, and now the entire timetable is messed up” instead of “Russian missiles just took out our broadcasting tower”—our people need us to step up and lead them out of it.
Decision-Making. Some people can make quick decisions on limited information, but this is very difficult for many others. Your people need you to make decisions in a crisis. You can’t fall into “analysis paralysis.”
One thing that improves our ability to do this is to “pre-think” potential problems. The next time you are in a public building, look at the “in case of fire” emergency info signs posted on the walls. They include how to escape (marked fire exits), how to use the fire-suppressant tools (“In Case of Emergency, Break Glass,” pull pin on the fire extinguisher, aim stream at the base of the fire), and what NOT to do (stay out of the elevators). If you can pre-think potential solutions for the things that might go wrong, you’ll save time and confusion if/when any of those things happen.
This can be a stressful mental exercise. You might need to break it into chunks over several meetings. Consider if there is anyone on your team who might really enjoy this experience, though. Some people thrive on making plans. You might set up a lunch meeting with a few people who think like this to brainstorm. Bring in some delicious takeout and talk about how the team could respond to, prepare for, or (best of all) prevent serious problems. Capture the ideas for how to deal with potential crises like:
Loss of electricity, loss of heat, loss of internet connectivity, malfunction of the building’s key-card system, etc.
Cyberattack, ransomware, mass resignation of the entire IT department, etc.
Dangerous weather: blizzard, tornado, wildfire, mudslide, tsunami, etc.
Major structural damage: earthquake, fire, kaiju attack, etc.
Global pandemic (as if something like that could every happen)
Civil unrest (e.g., if a convoy of trucks fills the streets around your building)
Break-in, theft, vandalism, etc.
Anything else that might impact your geographical area, industry, workforce, etc. Think outside the box.
This exercise might include a white-board (which might require some context if seen through the glass wall of the conference room during the meeting, so let people in the office know this meeting is happening) with three facets for each potential disaster: 1) Prevention, 2) Preparation, and 3) Response Plan. Capture and process the ideas and solutions into a structured, easy-to-understand document. Congratulations! You now have an Emergency Response Plan.
Make sure to implement the “prevention” parts and stock up for the “preparation” parts ASAP, so that if you ever need the “response” parts, you’ll be much better off. You might want to schedule an Emergency Response Plan check-in every 6 months or so, to make sure your plan stays current and your emergency supplies don’t expire. And you’ll probably want to keep a paper copy in a clearly-marked binder in at least two places (one on-site, one off-site).
Your top leadership team (which may have overlap with your crisis-response team) should also consider how to prevent, prepare for, and respond to:
Loss of a major client
Loss of a critical supplier
Economic shifts (inflation, recession/depression, etc.)
Market shifts (decreasing demand for your current products)
Personnel shifts (people resigning, people having medical emergencies, etc.)
You might want to keep these discussions within the small leadership group, though.