Leading Through Crisis: The Power of Resilience and Flexibility

We have a wealth of information on leadership—how to motivate, manage, and build a team; how to transform an entire workplace culture from the top down; how to handle conflicts. Yet, when it comes to crisis, we’re often left navigating a twisting road without direction. How do we lead in uncharted territory?

By definition, a crisis is unexpected, chaotic, and changes everything. It’s usually unprecedented or markedly different from past experiences, making you the leader of something novel. Most leadership relies on experience and knowledge, but what if we are the first ones?

Imagine the great leaders of WWII and how they had to embark on their own leadership journeys. They had to use the resources they already had to navigate an unknown reality. They understood that to lead in a crisis, they would need to identify their strengths and core beliefs to create a leadership strategy for success.

Soviet premier Joseph Stalin, US president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and british Prime Minister Winston Churchill - WWII Leaders

When we face a new crisis, we must depend on our core virtues to decipher the right solution.

Understanding the Two Eyes

The Samurai, Miyamoto Musashi, teaches us about how we see things in the world. He talks about the Observing Eye and the Perceiving Eye. The Observing Eye sees the reality of a situation, taking a step back, and recognizing it for what it is. The Perceiving Eye, considered the weaker view, is when we see something and imagine our perceptions, opinions, and emotions about the situation.

The Observing Eye allows us to objectively read an issue for its reality and take action (we lead in the present). When we see a crisis with the Observing Eye, we prepare ourselves to find the best solution without succumbing to anxiety and pressure.

Lead with Character

Skill may raise us to success, but it is character that sustains us. Our virtues, core beliefs, and identity help us navigate difficult seasons. Our character enables us to interpret situations and decide the best course of action, even if it might not make sense at the time.

When we face a crisis, we may be tempted to go with the flow or to do what our peers are pressuring us to do. The right character will assess these factors and filter them through your leadership core values. This is incredibly important, considering you’ll be the one leading your team and need to stand firm on your decisions when challenges get out of control.

Lead with your values. Use empathy, grace, confidence, listening, discipline, and other virtues to lead in an unfamiliar time.

“A leader is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.” – Nelson Mandela

Put People First

The most significant part of any crisis will be the people. Your team is the essential difference between success and failure when there is a threat to your organization. When everything seems to be falling apart, it’s the people who will put it back together. If we value people and put them first, we increase our chances of weathering the storm.

Every decision you make and every word you communicate will be remembered. A crisis is a vulnerable time for people. They are worried about their jobs and families. Everything that seemed secure is now threatened. If a leader makes this season harder through anxious words and toxic interactions, they harm themselves, their team, and their business.

The best way to put people first is by speaking life into their lives. Encourage them regularly, not just for their achievements, but for who they are as individuals. Motivate them in failure and show them that you appreciate what they have done. Listen to them and find out what ideas they have, what they are passionate about, and what concerns them. Listening is the best way to show that we value people.

During a crisis, we should over-communicate. People need to hear double the encouragement and vision. Difficult times call for stronger teams and social security.

Be Resilient and Flexible

If you’ve ever led through a crisis, you quickly learn that everything moves fast. You think you’ve found a solution, but it didn’t work or the crisis has evolved, and now it is outdated. That’s why resilience and flexibility are so important.

Resilience allows us to recover quickly after a setback. Instead of dwelling on it for too long, we dust ourselves off and get back up. We keep trying. Flexibility is when we adjust our sails easily as we learn and find opportunities. We don’t work reluctantly when we need to change a process or strategy.

When we implement both of these virtues, we develop grit. We are prepared to face challenges head-on and find our way through them.

“The key to successful leadership is influence, not authority.”

Kenneth H. Blanchard

Take a Step Back

Much like what the Observing Eye does for us, we need to be intentional about pausing and breathing. Take a step back and analyze the situation.

I worked at a fast-food restaurant in college as a new manager. When we had the lunch rush and encountered several problems, I felt stressed. My mentor at the time gave me great advice.

He told me to ignore my instinct at that moment, which was to jump in and get busy. I couldn’t assess the situation and wouldn’t be much help if I just manned another cash register. He taught me to step back and watch. While the front counter was packed, by stepping away, I realized the real issue was that the kitchen was behind on food. I was able to adjust my strategy.

When we stop to observe reality, we can find the best option. Instead of being busy, we can make strategic decisions that yield a greater impact than what we could do ourselves.

When we face a crisis, it can be intimidating. We have very few examples in history to look to. However, when we rely on our values and experience to develop a new strategy, we can overcome any challenge put before us.

What do you think is the most important quality of a leader? How you will show your leadership in crisis? Share your thoughts below!

About Sasindu Jayasri 99 Articles
Sasindu Jayasri is an Engineering student from Sri Lanka and he studies mechanical engineering at the department of mechanical engineering at the University of Moratuwa. He is passionate about writing and giving inspiration to the world. Follow him in LinkedIn for updates and you can contact him directly.

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