How to help lead your company through crisis

Try these five tactics to build your internal authority, credibility and influence.

How to help lead through crisis

Leading in challenging circumstances is akin to riding with people you care about on a broken-down rollercoaster with everyone blindfolded and no safety harnesses.

The ups are slow to emerge, and you always know there’s a big drop coming soon—you just don’t know when, much less how steep it will be before you whip around the next turn.

You hope you can keep the cars on the tracks and that you don’t lose anyone along the way.

You wish you could ensure everyone’s safety, and it eats at you that you can’t. But you know you’ll do everything and then some to try.

Every crisis leader I’ve known is searching not so much for easy solutions but ideas that might lead to solutions.

While we naively believe our leaders have the answers, mostly, they don’t.

Many arrived at their present position because they were good at working with others to solve problems or at creating or casting a vision. Those skills are invaluable in a crisis.

They displayed great competence in a narrow discipline, and someone or some group tapped them on the shoulder and said, “We want you to lead and help us out of this mess.” Regardless of your title, you can help your company during tough times, too. Here are five ways to do so:

1. Resolve daily to be part of the solution.

In the face of adversity, it’s common for groups to focus on talking about everything that’s wrong and prognosticating about why the situation is doomed. Yet, each of us has the opportunity in our own encounters to help individuals and groups break out of that mode.

Starting today, strive to succeed at every encounter. You can start by challenging your colleagues and co-workers to put aside the griping and gossiping, and to focus on generating ideas that lead to concrete actions.

2. Shine a spotlight on the conversations that no one is having.

These are the conversations about projects that need to be terminated, business models that must transform, and pet initiatives that must be scrapped.

In times of prosperity, it’s easy to gloss over these issues and conversations. In challenging circumstances, bringing them to the surface is essential for survival. It takes guts, but having the courage to raise these thorny issues can bolster your reputation and help you earn respect.

3. Get beyond your fear of level and power, and speak up.

Leaders in crises are duty-bound to maintain calm, concerned and confident demeanors.

In reality, they are desperate for people to come forth with new ideas and suggestions on different approaches. It might seem intimidating to write that note or knock on the (virtual) door. More often than not, you’ll be pleased with the response. If you have ideas that will help, stand in the door, and speak up!

4. Practice gray-zone leadership.

Gray zones inhabit (and inhibit) every organization.

They’re the visible gaps in process, communication or structure that everyone sees, but no one claims to own. Practice leading without authority, and bring coalitions to life to solve those problems. And then keep moving.

5. Create context and engagement that lead to actions.

Use the 3W’s to focus groups on the right issues:

  • What’s working?
  • What’s not?
  • What do we need to do differently?

Many of my clients use: Start/Stop/Do More. Both approaches help groups focus on burning issues, and both lead to tangible actions.

However you proceed: Reframe your view on your leaders charged with navigating crises. Recognize their need for support, engagement and an occasional helping of empathy. While anyone in a leadership role owns the heavy lifting of solving problems, they can’t do it without your help.

Art Petty is a leadership coach and author. Read more on his blog.

COMMENT Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive the latest articles from directly in your inbox.