When you think of leadership traits, many things will likely come to mind. Honesty, a sense of humor, and confidence are just a few. But there is one trait that is not often considered — the ability to handle an emergency. Everyone wants a leader to be likable, smart, efficient, impartial, etc., but when there is a crisis, it sure helps to have someone at the helm who knows what the heck they are doing.
Some have said that this sort of thing is in-born, but talk with any pilot, doctor, soldier, firefighter or law enforcement leader and they’ll tell you that a major step in being a leader who can handle an emergency is to be prepared. And preparedness can be learned.
So how can one be prepared to lead out in any sort of an emergency?
That may seem like a tall order given the myriad of situations that one could tag as an emergency. Fortunately, there some common principles that apply across the board and learning those basics is the first step to being ready. Training builds confidence which enables one to transition from ignorant paralysis in a crisis to one who is more likely to step up because they have developed a level of expertise to give them the courage to do something.
Whether it’s a personnel conflict, a financial melt-down, an accident, a natural disaster, a fire or medical emergency, or one of hundreds of other urgent situations, here are some general guidelines that are common to all crisis situations that you may want to integrate into your own plan.
1. First of all, stay calm. That well worn but useful British slogan to “Keep Calm and Carry On” comes to mind.
2. Very helpful is to not raise your voice (unless life or limb are at stake). Nothing can panic a group and undermine your ability to influence others more than a needlessly raised voice.
3. Think safety. First, do no harm unless acting quickly, even with some risk for injury, causes less harm than further delay would. This could also be applied to situations that don’t necessarily result in physical damage, but also emotional.
4. Call early on for help and know who and how you’d call. In an emergency its the ignorant and proud who go down in flames, figuratively or literally.
5. Pace yourself and delegate responsibilities early on to ensure your people have back-up support. Seldom is handling an emergency a one-person operation.
6. Think on your feet and use your training to anticipate what might be needed next. Think 3-4 steps ahead of others and listen to what people tell you. It helps to start writing things down in a checklist format to help you stay organized and not forget some key thing.
7. If the crisis appears to be one that will be protracted, plan for a central location/nerve center that handles communications, tracks information, and handles people with questions. If 24/7 operations are needed, arrange for work/rest cycles.
8. Plan for the public relations aspect of the emergency–the longer the drama lasts the more hungry people are for information. You will need to manage the story through what you say or write.
9. When its all over and the crisis passes, meet with your team and have an after-action review session (what happened, why it happened, and how it can be done better). Take to heart what you learn.
10. Reward those who made a difference. Rewards could be as simple as a thank you or as memorable as a formal award. It’s all about taking good care of people when it’s all said and done.
When running a business, emergencies come in many forms and there are consistent leadership styles of handling them that can be identified and learned. Arguably, the difference between a successful business and a failure could hinge on an entrepreneur’s skills at managing a crisis. Whether it’s a cash flow failure, hostile competitors, a disgruntled employee or customer, or a changing market, managers do best when they prepare themselves with a checklist of important things to consider when confronting a conflict.
In summary, there is something about how humans organize themselves that causes us to look for leaders, especially when there is an emergency. Effective crisis managers are the ones who are able to step up and properly tackle things the majority of people run away from.
Most people can be the leader in a tight spot. You don’t have to be a professional at this either, just someone who has given some thought to being ready and can remember some key guiding rules to follow. And those basics, through training and practice, can be internalized to make you look like a natural at it.
Image credits: ryanoshea on Flickr – Keep Calm And Don’t Forget To Be Awesome