Embracing crisis leadership

There are a few pivotal moments in the history of an organization that will make or break it. No matter the industry, every organization will face crises from time to time. These challenges, when not handled well, can decide the future of a company.

The history of a company, like the history of a country, follows a general pattern… movement from one crisis to another.  When the history books are written, they don’t devote many pages to periods of peace. Rather, history books generally record how companies or countries responded during a crisis.  Therefore, crisis leadership is a basic skill all leaders must possess. 

I believe we are living during one of those times that will be recorded in history books. I believe the coronavirus is challenging leaders from every walk of life, unlike anything I’ve seen in my lifetime.

Leadership is a noble endeavor, but it’s no easy task! Helping people respond to the changes in the environment is a skill every leader must possess.  Add a crisis to this equation, and the task of leadership can become overwhelming. 

No one enjoys a crisis. When the pressure is on, even the most basic leadership tasks become demanding.  Most crises are completely unpredictable.  No one knows the kind of difficulties a company will face in the future, nor does anyone know when an industry might face a major setback.

Every leader needs to be prepared to respond to a crisis at any moment. That’s why every leader needs to work on these skills, even during the easy times.  No one predicted the global physical, economic, or political fallout that the coronavirus has created.

There are many examples of crisis leadership in sports, business, and politics. However, one of the greatest examples of crisis leadership I’ve ever discovered is found in the Bible. The leader is a guy by the name of Nehemiah. I’d like to use a couple of examples from Nehemiah to help you develop your crisis leadership skills.  Here are three basic leadership skills that Nehemiah demonstrated during a crisis in ancient Jerusalem.  I hope that this blog will equip you to handle the leadership challenges you’re facing during this COVID-19 pandemic.

Tackle the ugly truth

COVID-19 has universally challenged leaders unlike anything I’ve seen in decades.  Finding the proper response to this virus may be one of the most challenging aspects of this crisis. A leader cannot afford to bury his or her head in the sand during these difficult times. 

Nehemiah is a leader who had to face hard facts and the ugly truths.  He left his home in Persia to become a general contractor and supervise the rebuilding of the walls in Jerusalem. However, as soon as Nehemiah began to make progress, his critics started to run him down.  When his political opponents couldn’t discourage this great leader, they plotted to kill him in order to stop the work.  Talk about dealing with a crisis! This is about as severe as it gets for a leader. There is no way that you can lead well during difficulties if you’re not willing to accept the hard, ugly truth about your current circumstances.   

Nehemiah didn’t dismiss the problem, nor did he allow the problem to overwhelm him. This is a delicate balance as a leader.  The people you lead deserve to know the truth. Sometimes the truth is scary; other times the truth hurts to hear.  Nehemiah didn’t back down from the hard, ugly truth.  The people you lead need to know that you are willing to face the ugly numbers or the terrible projections about the future.  Your people also need to know that you won’t hide the hard truth from them. There’s no hope for tomorrow if you’re unwilling or unable to confront bad news today!  Nehemiah’s vision for tomorrow gave him the courage to confront today’s tough truth.

Create a bold plan

A leader must be ready to fight for what he or she believes in and fight for the future of the organization.  Nehemiah was a guy who didn’t back down when the job became difficult. Nehemiah was also the kind of leader who was willing to respond when the work became dangerous. He didn’t run from danger in Nehemiah 4:15.

This should have been the moment when everybody packed up their tools and went home. This dangerous, difficult situation could have prevented this building project from being completed. However, Nehemiah wouldn’t let the work suffer. He faced the challenges head-on. In fact, he had a plan to deal with this crisis situation.

Typically, leaders will respond in one of two ways during a crisis. Some leaders will walk in fear.  Often this fear causes leaders to become timid and unsure of themselves.  Remember Leader, there’s no room for timidity when your building is on fire! During a crisis, like a burning building, a leader has to make bold decisions. These decisions aren’t always easy, nor are they popular. However, they’re always necessary during a crisis.  When the building is on fire, there’s no time to call a board meeting to discuss your options. No, when the building is on fire, it’s time for action.  Pick people up and throw them out the window, if you must, as a leader.  Your quick, bold action may be the very thing that saves lives or your company. This is a simple example of bold crisis leadership.

Exceptional leaders see opportunities in the midst of a crisis. They will form a plan and take bold action that they might not take under normal circumstances. These exceptional leaders understand that crisis circumstances are anything but normal.  Normally a leader doesn’t throw people out the window. However, when the building is on fire, this is exactly the kind of bold leadership people need. This COVID-19 crisis might be the very opportunity for your company to move fast and strike hard in ways they never would during normal circumstances.

Never give up hope

Nehemiah never lost hope. He had plenty of reasons to give up and go home. He let no one and nothing cause him to lose his hope for the future.  During a crisis people can start to lose heart and lose hope. This is where a leader must step in and rally the heart and minds of the people. The only way to keep an organization going strong during a crisis is to keep its people focused on the future.

Nehemiah believed in someone bigger than himself. Perhaps one of the reasons why Nehemiah never gave up hope is because he wasn’t just trusting in his leadership abilities, nor did he trust only in the skills and the strength of the people working alongside him. Ultimately, Nehemiah put his trust in God. When you have a rock-solid hope in the God of Heaven like Nehemiah, your hope is bigger than your present circumstances.

Don’t give up, Leader.  Hang in there no matter how difficult it is right now.  If you’re a leader who’s struggling with the bad news and hard work ahead of you, look to Nehemiah.  He faced crises head-on and didn’t let difficulties cause him to lose hope!

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