Every business leader expects to experience one or more crises over time. The challenge for each of you is to get it done quickly and effectively, without losing the trust of voters and customers.
In my role as a business consultant, I see leaders who instinctively deal with it, and others who fall apart under the stress of letting their emotions and prejudices lead them astray.
In my experience, there are only a few basics to remember and practice. I saw this clearly summarized in a new book, TO BUILD, by entrepreneur Tony Fadell. He writes that these strategies apply to an external crisis that you have no control over, an internal failure, or just the kind of growing pains that affect any company.
1. Keep your focus on how to solve the problem.
Forget assigning blame until later, as that will only complicate things and make it an emotional battle. What is needed first is your strong leadership, or even a leadership team, to create a plan, assign the right people and monitor the steps towards a solution. Provide tools and resources as needed.
Especially when distractions and emotions are high, it will help you focus to break down big challenges and crises into smaller elements to get things going and give you a sense of progress. Schedule some time for any serious problem.
2. Don’t hesitate to micromanage a crisis in the first place.
Your people need to know who to follow, what to do, and how to do it. But very soon after everyone has their assignment and is actively working, you have to let them do their job without questioning every step. Later stage micromanagement only increases stress and slows progress.
I’ve found that micromanagement can be especially productive if you’re working with a new or unique situation, or working with a new team with little experience. The challenge for many bosses is recognizing when their team should coach them.
3. Seek advice before jumping to conclusions.
Don’t just try to solve the problem or come up with a plan, especially if you don’t have any relevant experience. Find a mentor, or expert in the field, and ask for their advice. You need to understand potential misconceptions and track down any rumors that complicate the situation and lead to the wrong conclusion.
Primarily for these reasons, I always recommend new entrepreneurs and startups to put together a qualified advisory board or board of directors early in their lifecycle. The passion of a new CEO, combined with crisis inexperience, often leads them astray.
4. Communicate too much and really listen to feedback.
When you feel a crisis, you need to communicate and listen well with urgency, transparency and empathy. A tone of urgency encourages people to mitigate impact, and transparency builds confidence in you as a leader. Showing empathy promotes resilience in directly facing challenges and acting.
A key challenge in communication in a crisis is staying ahead of the problem. Don’t wait for a media investigation or government agency to put you on the defensive and make all your efforts seem too little, too late. Daily updates about a crisis are often appropriate.
5. Always be willing to take responsibility.
Whether the impending crisis was caused by your mistake, or your team, or a fluke, you gain trust by taking responsibility for the impact this crisis has had on customers and apologizing. Conversely, the quickest and surest way to lose all confidence is to completely blame others for the situation.
Some business leaders I know have used their “original intent” to defend themselves, avoid responsibility, or admit mistakes. Unfortunately, good intentions won’t get you very far in a crisis where people may have been wronged.
If you can get through one or two crises as a business leader, with the help of these recommendations, you’ll find that your brand and personal image will increase, as will your satisfaction with the role.
Prepare now to turn your next crisis into a leadership event, rather than a loss of confidence for all to see.