Stanford University

Leadership In Times Of Crisis

The dynamics of leadership was the subject of a study by Stanford University.  Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 company employees that rose from low levels to become president of the company were studied.  Was there a common trait that these leaders demonstrated during their rise to the top?  There was one common characteristic.  It was during times of crisis that leaders emerged.  The study found that this is not trained but rather inbred in the character of the leader.  With that said, our own leadership skills come to the forefront during times of great stress.

None of us can espcape setbacks, challenges and crisis.  One can’t avoid them and they don’t ever stop.  A problem solver is how a leaders job is defined.  The more responsibility the more challenges and crises there are to handle.  The only thing that a leader can control when these inevitable crises occur is how to respond.  If we could control it, we would have stopped it from occurring in the first place, but since we couldn’t…here it is.  This is defined as our response ability.  Our ability to respond to crunch times of modern life.  There are 7 steps, according to Brian Tracy, that can be taken during difficult times.

1.  Stay calm.  Take a deep breath.  The true test of leaders is effectively handling problems and challenges.  Top leaders keep their composure.  By staying calm, blood flows to the front of the brain, according to neuro-science.  The front of the brain, the thinking brain, is where we analyze, make decisions and take action.  However, when we get excited blood flows to the paleocortex, or the animal brain, which triggers emotions.  Anger, fear, flight or fight etc.  Our job is to stay calm so that we are activating the thinking part of the brain.

2.  Get the facts.  What really has gone on, get the real facts.  It is very common that when crisis occurs we don’t have all the facts.  The natural tendency of weak people is to jump to conclusions and run around in circles.  The way to stay calm and to get the facts is to ask questions.  Leaders listen.  Asking questions is what leaders do.  An critical skill is to withhold judgment until all the facts have been learned.

3.  Take responsibility.  This calms a leader down.  By saying the words, “I am responsible, I’m a leader it’s my responsibility to not get upset but to solve problems.”  Refuse to complain or throw a pity party.  What is done is done.  Don’t criticize other people.  Assume that people have the best of objectives.  No one is perfect and sometimes people make mistakes…it’s just the way it works.  When we are critical of others we shut down the thinking part of the brain and began to act of out emotion such as angry or resentment.  We can always take responsibility for how we respond even if we didn’t cause this particular problem.  A leaders role is to keep cool, stay calm and in control.

4.  Remain Confident.  As human beings, we have all the tools and intelligence to handle any and all problems that arise.  We are not given a problem that we can’t solve.  Show confidence.  Without fail, your people are a direct reflection of you. Our people are always watching and mirroring us.  If we maintain our poise then others will retain their poise.  If we are upset they will be upset.  Even if on the inside we feel fear or trepidation, on the outside we should just smile and remain confident as if the successful result is guaranteed.

5.  Unleash Creativity.  Ask the question, “How?” “How can we solve this problem?”  “How can we overcome?”  The mind only answers questions that we ask.  Utilize this:  Take a piece of paper and with your team ask the question, “How can we solve this problem?”  Involve others in the identifying the solution.  “We can do more of this or we can do less of that…”  Be solution oriented at all times.  Those that are weak place blame on others.  It is always the fault of others and they focus on blaming someone else.  Don’t focus on what can’t be changed, only focus on what can be changed.

6.  Concentrate on Priorities.  Stop. Time out.  Keep the main thing the main thing.  What is the most important thing at this moment?  Who are the key people to get on board?  Slow down and focus on the most important thing that can be done.  Concentrate on stopping the bleeding.  Keep asking, “What is the most valuable thing that I can do right now?”

7.  Counter Attack.  Go to work.  Stop. Think. Get the facts and get to work.  See the key people.  Talk to the players that need to be talked to.  Make the phone calls.  Attend the meetings.  Stay action oriented.  There is nothing like action to give us a sense of control and personal power.  As we take action then we get feedback to self-correct and take more action.  The more active we are the more ideas we get and more action can be taken.

Crunch time is expected.  Anticipate challenges, problems and crises.  The only question is how well we perform under those circumstances.  When we perform well during crunch time then we are leaders and will have a exceptional life.

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