Does your leadership pass the crisis test? Three tips for leaders in tough times

Much of the world has felt the impact of numerous crises in the past two years. From COVID and its many profound effects to social injustice, surging inflation and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the planet has been rocked by life-changing events.

It’s been an ongoing test for leaders in business and government. When crisis occurs and all eyes of the organization are on them, some leaders aren’t equipped to handle it properly, but there’s a process that can help them manage crisis and achieve a successful outcome, said Warren Rustand, a longtime corporate leader and the ForbesBooks author of “The Leader Within Us: Mindset, Principles, and Tools for a LIFE BY DESIGN.”

“As leaders, we are going to be challenged more and more often to deal with various crises,” Rustand said. “We need to be very thoughtful about the way we’re going to lead through them. In a crisis, people often gravitate to the calm, rational, and reasoned person in the room. As a leader, you need to have command of the facts, elevate your team, and speak with authority while still allowing others to participate in the process.”

Rustand offers these tips to help leaders be a steadying influence while guiding their organizations through a crisis:
Seek clarity and intentionality. Good leaders have clarity of vision in everything they do, Rustand said, and in the early stages of a crisis the importance of this attribute is magnified.

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“Assess the situation, without panic or fear,” he said. “Get clarity by going to good sources of information and following that data. Clarity leads to certainty of intent – your intentional actions.”

Being consistent with intentionality on a daily basis is crucial, he said, requiring a higher level of discipline and time management.

“The amount of time we waste today is extraordinary, perhaps even more so today given the advance of technology and its availability,” Rustand said. “Leaders can’t afford to waste time during a crisis, nor can their teams.

Focus on your people. In times of crisis, a workforce is concerned about their families and their jobs. Customers worry about making payments or supply issues. Chief among a leader’s responsibilities during a crisis, Rustand said, is reaching out on a regular basis on a personal level to let employees and customers know the company management team cares about them.

“How you treat your people is of the utmost importance,” Rustand said. “You need to calm them and assist them however you can. Great communication means everything and shows who you are as a leader. Be completely transparent and vulnerable. Show respect for what others are going through. Doing these things will strengthen trust and relationships.”

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Don’t dominate, but collaborate. Rustand said some leaders have a tendency during a crisis to try to have all the answers when they don’t and end up doing too much on their own.

“All too often in a crisis, leaders react spontaneously and make decisions too quickly,” he said. “Collaborate with your team and sift through the facts, the knowns and unknowns. Leaders’ egos sometimes make them want to be the fountain of knowledge, but in times of crisis it’s especially important to open your mind to the room and all the other smart people in it. Your people will respect you as a consensus-based collaborative leader and for including them in the decision-making process. After the crisis, there will be a better culture as a result of that collaboration, as opposed to you directing people without engaging them. The real test of leadership doesn’t occur when things are sailing along smoothly. Times of crisis pose the ultimate test for leaders. Their people are looking for direction, truth, steadiness, support and calm confidence. If a leader provides those things, the organization will emerge stronger and more unified when the storm passes.”

About Warren Rustand
Warren Rustand (warrenrustand.com) is an entrepreneur, corporate leader and the ForbesBooks author of “The Leader Within Us: Mindset, Principles, and Tools for a LIFE BY DESIGN.” Selected as a White House Fellow in 1973, he was a special assistant to the Secretary of Commerce and co-led the first-ever executive-level trade mission to the Soviet Union. Rustand served as Appointments and Cabinet Secretary to President Gerald Ford. A former academic All-American basketball player at the University of Arizona, Rustand has been the CEO of six companies and has served on the board of directors of more than 50 for-profit or not-for-profit organizations. Rustand is an author, educator, and well-known speaker and for 30 years led a public policy-private sector conference in Washington D.C. for CEOs. He is currently the Dean of Learning for Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) Global Leadership Academy. 

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