Having effective leadership in place is
essential for any business to thrive.
Normal day-to-day activities require a leader who conveys a clear vision, inspires
confidence, communicates clearly and
The importance of strong leadership is
magnified in the event of a crisis. And at
some point, every entity will be faced with
a crisis of some sort. Being properly prepared to handle the inevitable calamity can
make a good leader a great one, says Mark
Relyea, adjunct professor at Woodbury
“We define our leadership capabilities by
our performance in crisis situations,” he
points out. “Everything that you are as a
leader becomes exemplified when you’re
thrown into a crisis.”
Smart Business spoke with Relyea about
how to avoid common mistakes that leaders make during crisis situations, how to
reduce employee fear and anxiety, and the
importance of situational leadership.
What are the first steps that management
should take in the event of a crisis?
Long before we ever find ourselves in
crises, we should have recognized that
we’re going to face them and implement
processes that are going to help us deal
Organizations strengthen themselves
and prepare for critical incidents by instituting sound leadership practices. You
want to make sure the people in the
organization know they’re capable of
addressing a crisis, minimizing damage
and bringing the incident to a successful
conclusion. If you have an organization
put together like this, when a crisis
comes, you’re ready.
What are some common mistakes that leaders make during a crisis and how can these
Probably the biggest mistake leaders can
make is failing to maintain their credibility.
People are watching over us at all times, so
it’s important to lead by example and do
what we say. Perceptions are everything to the credibility of a leader.
Another common mistake is that when
leaders are thrown into crises situations,
they feel like they have to take an autocratic leadership approach. It’s usually a
mistake to suddenly hold yourself responsible for coming up with all of the answers
if you don’t normally do this. During a crisis, the leader needs to make the final
decisions, but not excluding the management team that he or she has depended on
in the past.
Finally, in times of crises, it’s human
nature to become frustrated with other
people, but leaders need to avoid venting
because it doesn’t usually help. Instead,
these feelings need to be replaced with
positive action. You want to replace complaints and blame with sound problem
analysis and good tactical communication.
How should communication be handled?
Communication is everything to a leader,
especially in a time of crisis. Good leaders
are capable of presenting clear, consistent
messages. Colin Powell says that good
leaders are great simplifiers. Keep it simple, but make sure people understand the
Some of the messages can be sent out in writing, but there is no replacement for the
spoken word when it comes to motivating
people. Spoken words are powerful. A
leader needs to be out, be seen and be
heard. Also, leaders need to keep their personnel informed about what the problem is
and what they’re doing to resolve it.
How can employee fear and anxiety be
It’s important to address employee fear
and anxiety, because if you can reduce
these issues, people will perform better.
Every organization is going to have a crisis at some point, so employees should be
You want to implement practical exercises like walkthroughs. When you’re hit with
a crisis, you want to frame it as a challenge
an opportunity to solve a problem.
One thing you don’t want to do, however,
is burden employees by giving them tasks
that they can’t handle. Be positive in your
communication and make sure the action
plan is being followed. The bottom line is
that confidence and being positive is contagious. Team members have to believe
that they can handle the problem and they
have to see their role as far as the solution
What type of leadership style tends to be
most effective in a crisis situation?
The type of leadership that is appropriate
is situational and will be determined by the
nature of the problem and the people that
you are working with. Sometimes, the
problem will require that the leader take a
directive approach. Other times, the problem will call for creative personnel to be
given a long leash.
A leader needs to be aware of what type
of leadership is going to inspire the people
that he or she is depending upon.
MARK RELYEA is adjunct professor at Woodbury University.
Reach him at [email protected] or (909) 709-6887.