Are you feeling that the whole world is leaping from crisis to crisis, and that you, and your team members are swept into a never-ending deluge of catastrophe? There is no doubt that our world is changing, and changing ever more rapidly and in ways that perhaps we never thought possible. Climate change, political upheavals, economic turmoil, demographic movements like migration, aging, millennials, and societal norms all affect us. They affect us personally and in our business. They create opportunities and threats. But the onslaught of change is so rapid and pervasive that we do not even have time to process the effect on our team, our customers, our organizations and ourselves.

What is a leader to do? For do something we must. Remember: “leadership is action not position!” Did you know that the Chinese symbol for “crisis” is the same as for “opportunity”? Therefore, how do we see the opportunity within the crisis? This is the fundamental function of leadership – to see the opportunities, despite a present that is bleak and that most people can’t see beyond, to give hope of a brighter future, and to provide forward momentum to keep vision alive.

The root of the word “crisis” (Greek): krisis = decision. www.dictionary.com tells us that a crisis is a “condition of instability or danger, as in social, economic, political, or international affairs, leading to a decisive change.” A crisis is therefore a turning point, or a time to decide, not to be paralysed. Our normal response in a crisis is to panic. We become paralyzed, not so much by what is happening but by our fear of what has happened in the past and what we think could happen in the future. The terrible thing about fear is that it feeds upon itself (the contagion effect), and soon everyone else is in a panic. One cannot see clearly in this state, for a state of fear clouds our vision and therefore our ability to make decisions. Ironically, this is the very time that we MUST make decisions!

I believe that there are 6 things a leader must do to create the space for calm, clear decision-making during times of crisis:

C = Communicate
R = Respect
I = Independent
S = Stay on message
I = Invincibility
S = Smile

C = Communicate: This is the time when the leader has to communicate to build community, to share news, invite feedback and gather information so that he/she can make better decisions, and have the team supportive of the decisions. Communicate via all media possible – in person, by e-mail, intranet, bulletin boards – fill all information voids early, for failure to do so will result in speculation and gossip, which is the food of fear.

R = Respect the feelings and views of others. Allow people to vent their worst fears and insecurity. Listen more than talk. Suspend judgement. Just listen.

I = Independence – do not get pulled into the panic. I know a CEO in Jamaica who locks himself in the bathroom every morning and laughs for 5 minutes which puts him in a good mood that lasts throughout the day. This allows him to stay clear and focused, aloof from, yet observing the panic, and so able to make the tough decisions that these times require.

S = Stay on your message. Nothing must keep you from the message. Find something that resonates with your team, and stick to it. Every communication, every speech, every action must reflect this message. A good message to start with is: “This too shall pass.”

I = Invincible – help others to have courage, and the feeling that they can conquer the crisis situation. Remember that “courage means acting in spite of fear.” So even if you are fearful (and you should be), accept and embrace, even acknowledge it to your team. But make sure to take action … regardless!

S = Smile – many years ago I read a Time magazine article on Nelson Mandela’s 8 lessons of leadership. Lesson #6 was “Appearances matter — and remember to smile”. The author made this observation about Mandela when he was running for President in 1994: “But more important was that dazzling, beatific, all-inclusive smile. For white South Africans, the smile symbolized Mandela’s lack of bitterness and suggested that he was sympathetic to them. To black voters, it said, I am the happy warrior, and we will triumph. The ubiquitous ANC election poster was simply his smiling face. “The smile,” says Ramaphosa, “was the message.”

Here are 6 steps you can take to lead your team through crises to opportunities:

  1. Get yourself into a positive state. (SMILE)
  2. Face your own fears – acknowledge what you are most fearful about right now and ask yourself how likely these fears are to be realised. (BE INVINCIBLE)
  3. Get clear on your message. Develop a mantra that brings you hope, keeps you positive and that you share with your team. “We’re in this together” is a great message to galvanise your team! My mantra is “Ease, grace and Joy” – it has carried me through many a crisis! (STAY ON MESSAGE)
  4. Stay present and focused. Don’t get caught up in the fray. (BE INDEPENDENT)
  5. Listen to your team. Invite them to share their own fears and their hopes too. Be vulnerable by sharing your fears, and then move to hope. Invite their input into exploring the opportunities, and together make it happen. (RESPECT OTHERS)
  6. Communicate to build community (COMMUNICATE)
  7. And there’s a 7th step – repeat daily!

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