A crisis could either make or break an organisation. It could also either wreck your reputation as a leader or it could be one of your finest hour.

And you want to know the bitter truth? You will only be able to know your true caliber as a leader when there’s a crisis.

Think about it: when crisis strikes, your staff’s morale will be running low, or worse, they may even be running around like headless chickens. It’s during those time of turbulence that will put your leadership skills to the test, to see if you can calm them down, rally them together and head for a common goal.

“Every test successfully met is rewarded by some growth in intuitive knowledge, strengthening of character, or initiation into a higher consciousness.” – Paul Brunton


Visibility And Presence

“You have to lead from everywhere.”

In the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Admiral Thad Allen successfully managed the response using specific crisis management skills and mindset.

His job scope required him to deal with the members of Congress, the administration, the people, the media, and he has had to manage his time in between Washington and the Gulf of Mexico where the oil spill was. But he also made sure he spent enough time “on-site”, physically by being out on the boats in Barataria Bay.

In his own words, “if you’re not visible with your people that are out on the boats in Barataria Bay in a 110-degree heat index trying to pull boom, then you’re not a credible leader. Because you don’t understand what they’re going through.”

Being a credible leader means being able to be present and visible in the various sites, departments, and areas which need your attention during times of “crisis.


Being Quick and Decisive, But not Hurriedly

It is important being able to be prompt, decisive and not second guess yourself in times of crisis.

But there is a difference being “quick” in making a decision, and doing it in a calm and reassuring way. Being hurried makes people nervous – very often counter-productive in times of crisis.

That said, it is also equally important being able to manage the situation and adapt accordingly if a change is required.


Flexibility: Adapt and Change Course

With crisis being potentially unique to its own, an effective leader needs to be able to adapt to each situation for solutions. In a crisis where quick decisions need to be made, going “by the book” will not only be inefficient but can take too much time.

Using the example of the BP oil spill, Admiral Thad Allen himself had to move away from traditional spill response and go into “3-D battle management.” After 8 near-miss accidents of helicopters and wing-crafts on air, he requested for military control of airspace so that he could manage them and prevent them from having accidents as they did their observation of the spill.

Allen said, “This change made all the difference.” as he could then concentrate on his mission more effectively in searching for sheets and ribbons of oil with his military aircrafts, rather than worrying about possible accidents.


Giving A Strategic Intent Without Micromanaging

In times where quick decisions need to be made and with many things on the front end requiring your attention, a clear objective needs to be communicated. In fact, to be effective, you will also have to avoid spending time on micromanaging your staff on “how” to get it done.

On 2 July 1863, under the rule of President Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War was underway when the Yankee army from the North of America was sent to defend the Union army line against the Confederate army (army from the South of America). A Union commander placed Chamberlain, a subordinate officer and his 400 soldiers at the end point of this Union line. The commander said that if the line was to be overrun by the Confederate attacks, the entire Union army will be disintegrated, and so Chamberlain will have to protect and defend the line, no matter what. The commander did not say “how”, but he very clearly expressed the “what”.

Needless to say, Chamberlain managed to hold the Union army line using a rarely used tactic and saved the day, not to mention, he also received the nation’s highest military recognition for his courage and creativity.

The strategic intent needs to be effectively communicated to ensure the success of a mission, and then the freedom of creativity needs to be given for the execution of the idea.


Time and Schedule Management: Prioritization Skills

It is easy to let a crisis destabilize your footing – but being an effective leader means you need to have a clear head, even when you’re under pressure. Managing a crisis requires being able to balance and manage what needs your attention now, yet still being able to show up when needed.

Hence time management and prioritization skills are crucial. It also means you need to be able to factor your well being into the equation by taking care of yourself, physically, mentally, and emotionally. With this balance, you can only lead better.

Company Mission First, Self Interest Last.

In combat, an error a soldier makes can result in the fatal defeat of the whole troop. Hence in combat practise, when one soldier makes a mistake, the whole team have to make up for it because in a real battlefield, it is not one man for himself.

In the corporate world, managers are often not bothered when an employee makes a mistake which could negatively damage his career. There is an underlying thinking that “What others do, won’t affect me.” and “If the career of others were to fail, that would benefit me.”

Yet what is benefitting for the manager, might not necessarily be beneficial for the company.

As such, a truly credible leader should strive for company value and not for self-interest, even when the errors of others might actually help them gain.


Anyone can rise through the ranks with experience and time and take on a higher role as a manager, team leader, or even as an executive director or CEO. While no two leaders are alike, a mark of a true leader is being able to navigate through tough high-pressured situations, while being able to motivate and inspire the majority to do the same.

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