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Dealing with a Crisis – Keeping Your Head When Others Lose Theirs

Adversity is a great test of character. It builds it as well as reveals it. Throughout our careers (and our personal lives) we will deal with crises (note that it’s pluralized). It takes real leadership to not only persevere through it but also help others through it as well.

The definition of ‘crisis’ depends greatly on perspective. For some what might be considered a crisis might be a major inconvenience for others. Either way, we’re talking about something that severely affects you, your team or your ability to deliver on your commitments. So, what do you do when you are faced with a crisis and people are looking to you for what they should do next?

Assess the Situation

The first thing you need to do as a leader is understand what the situation is. In order to make the right decisions, you need to have as many facts in front of you as possible at the time. What is the nature of the crisis? Who is impacted? Who are the stakeholders that you need to engage? These are all questions that need to be answered as early on as possible in order to create your action plan.

Create the Plan

As a leader, you’re responsible for charting a course and having your team follow you. You need to make the best decisions possible with the information you have at hand. Depending on what your potential impacts are, you need to make decisions to minimize these impacts to your project or organization. As an example, say your crisis involves the loss of infrastructure needed by your team to reach a critical milestone on your project. How can you minimize the impact? Do you find alternate options or substitutes for the lost infrastructure? Do you fast track other tasks that don’t require the missing resources?

Communicate, Communicate And Communicate!

During a crisis situation, communication (as with pretty much any other situation) is critical. Ensuring that the appropriate stakeholders are well informed is a key element to minimizing impacts. As an example, if your project is going to slip in schedule and/or budget due to this unforeseen event then your stakeholders need to be engaged early on so that they understand the impacts of the current situation and if possible, do what they can to help remedy the situation. Going back to the downed infrastructure example, if your project sponsor can escalate a remedy to the situation, it’s going to help minimize your project impacts as well as continue to build on that trusting relationship that you’ve established with leadership.

Crises are going to happen. We don’t expect them, we do risk mitigation as best we can however there are situations that happen that we simply cannot plan for. As leaders we are the ones our teams look to for guidance. It’s our job to make the right decisions, make sure all appropriate stakeholders are informed and to stand in front and lead by example.

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