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  • CDT Staff

Lessons from Leading in a Crisis

By: Scott McCulloch

Leading during a crisis is a challenging experience for any leader and one that can take you and your team through a plethora of situations and emotions that can affect everyone differently. The Top 5 lessons that I have learned and grown from leading in a crisis are.

· Empathy

· Communication

· Pivoting and Adjusting

· Being fast but patient

· Setting and managing expectations

I am sure every leader can relate to the lessons above and add many more to that list from their experiences. However, for me the lessons I have learned here help keep me grounded with a clear visions while making decisions and navigating a path for the team in the middle of a storm.

Empathy by definition is the “capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their framework of reference”. The ability to have empathy is one of the most impactful skills a leader can have and as I continue to improve in this area and find as I connect more with my team i build trust with them through empathy and the honest care and confidence tends to come through. Having empathy helps me really understand the reality of others and gives me a clearer scope to what actions are needed.

Communication is interesting as most of us feel we are great communicators. I find that where I have learned the most in the area of communications is split in 3 parts. First, sending clear and concise information out to the team and building the channels both internal and external for communication to come back, It cannot be one way. The 2nd part of my communication learning is to anchor your update points so clients, members, staff etc know where to go for updated information and do it over as many platforms as possible and not just the ones you like to use. Lastly, put the human connection and face to as much communication as you can ie phone call, video conference, social media video etc as people tend to feel, care and connect more.

Having the awareness of where, when and how you might need to pivot/adjust is essential in order to navigate your team onto a path that will allow you to survive and hopefully build and grow in the most effective fashion. I am fascinated with the learning in how we pivot and adjust as it is more comfortable and easier to pivot/adjust when it is by our design, environment, timeline and is mapped out with all that is needed. However, in a crisis we are often limited with the choice and may be forced to pivot/adjust and it becomes very uncomfortable and challenging with impactful decisions needed to be made in real time. I have come to embrace that I am a better leader by being comfortable in an uncomfortable environment permanently, as it builds my confidence and ability to constantly adjust and pivot making crisis times more manageable to navigate.

The wisdom/knowledge/learning of how to move fast but also be patient is critical for a good leader at all times but especially in times of crisis as this will set the tone for your whole team and can be a determining factor in on how you survive the short term and the possible long term affects. I find it important to provide your team the scope and information to act fast in the micro (day to day) and empower your team to make decisions, push out information, execute and activate. While that is happening your business will keep moving and continue to engage and build traction while you can be patient and set the scope for the macro (vison) what does our business scope look like? What will be need to move towards? Do we have the resources and what does the time line look like? What is our knowledge and the impact for pivoting/adjusting? Being aware and able to recognize as leader where you need to be fast and patient is an ongoing and invaluable lesson.

The ability to set and manage expectations for others is a challenge at the best of times as we are have different drives, interests, skills and ambitions. This challenge tends to multiply and can become exceptionally stressful during a crisis as the unknown factors, emotions, safety, fluid situations, financial impact etc start to come into play. The more I find myself in these situations I go back to some of the lessons listed above and in addition I focus on providing a clear and simple scope for the team with an estimated timeline before the next update, provide the education, training, resources so they can execute and most of all be upfront and honest with the information as this help your team focus on what is at hand as they know more updates will follow and you have them covered.

There are many lessons learned from leading in crisis and no hard fast rule book and your lessons may align or be different to mine and different crisis’s may provide a different learning. I believe that if you trust your instincts, operate from a place of caring for others, lean on some key foundations that help your thought process and LEARN from others around you will do just fine…. I do believe there is a leader in all of us.


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