Kent Ingle is president of Southeastern University, author of several leadership books and host of the Framework Leadership podcast.
Hurricane season is unpredictable. Before the Atlantic hurricane season officially starts in June, storms can develop in early May and threaten to disrupt our daily routines. Having lived in Florida for more than a decade, I have learned the importance of always being prepared.
Dealing with unforeseen situations is something that every leader faces—for some, it may even be on a consistent basis. Whether it’s for a storm or a crisis, leaders should constantly prepare themselves for whatever is coming by thinking through various scenarios before they even occur.
Below are five steps I would encourage every leader to take to be ready for a crisis.
1. Assemble a team of experts.
Successful leaders surround themselves with people who can provide sound advice in challenging situations. These should be trustworthy individuals with expertise in different areas or departments of an organization. At the university where I serve as president, we have an emergency response team that is ready to meet before or when a crisis appears. This team includes leaders from various departments on campus because we want input from every constituent level.
When you have people from a variety of backgrounds and opinions, you can consider different perspectives before you make decisions. It’s critical that you listen to these individuals and allow them to be a part of the decision-making process. Leading should never be one-sided. You should be a voice for all the people you lead and have them in mind when you make decisions.
2. Have a plan in place.
Only 49% of U.S. businesses have a formal crisis communications plan, according to a Capterra survey. Yet, leaders must be proactive, not reactive. Before a situation ever arises, successful leaders have plans established that they are ready to execute. They understand that situations can change but don’t go in unprepared. These plans should outline what will happen and provide alternative routes should unexpected circumstances arise.
To draft these plans, you should walk through possible scenarios before encountering the situation. Our organization has held roundtables with our emergency response team where we give them crisis scenarios and ask them to determine a plan of action within a given timeframe. This makes it realistic and helps the team to think on their feet.
Remember, your plan will act as a guideline that will help you determine where you are going, and it can be a source of confidence and reassurance amid uncertainty. Take the time to review these plans and ask people you trust to provide feedback.
3. Communicate frequently with constituents.
One of the biggest mistakes a leader can make is not communicating effectively. Leaders often think they need to have all the details in order before communicating their message. The problem is that it can take time that leaders don’t have. When you don’t communicate quickly, you leave people in the dark to guess what will happen next. It can create tension, spawn rumors or produce unnecessary fires that you must put out because you weren’t proactive enough in your approach.
Get ahead of the storm. It’s okay to say that the situation is developing or to change plans along the way. Make sure that you are present, demonstrate that you are aware of the situation and reassure people that you are handling it. People need to hear your voice during and after the crisis, and your messaging should be consistent. A leader should be a source of stability and calm in a chaotic situation.
At the height of the pandemic, one strategy our crisis team implemented was a weekly talk show that I led with a panel of experts. It was sent out to all of our constituents because I wanted to be present, seen and a voice of reassurance.
4. Be ready to change course.
Effective leaders know that no plan is set in stone. With any moment of crisis, multiple variables will arise that can impede or affect the original plan. Prepared leaders are ready to deal with any situation that surfaces. As the circumstances develop, you may find that the plan you have won’t be effective given the current situation. This is where you need to be confident enough to pivot into a new direction.
Leaders who are unwilling to adapt or change can become irrelevant. Sometimes leaders can be so preoccupied with minor details that they miss the whole picture. Don’t be afraid to change course and listen to those around you.
5. Prepare for the aftermath.
One of the most difficult challenges leaders face is dealing with what happens following a crisis. For some leaders, there may be a sense of relief if everything proceeds as planned. And, for others, confronting problems that transpired may be more difficult than the actual issue. When you’re developing your crisis plan, ensure you include follow-up steps in the plan of action. Circle back with those you lead and ask about any areas of concern or needs.
It’s imperative that you not only deal with what occurred but also provide clarity about what will happen next. You can inspire hope, even in defeat, grief and anxiety. Your work isn’t finished when the crisis ends; its end is just the beginning of something new.
Leaders who are prepared will guide their teams efficiently, create vibrant environments and cultivate the respect of others. The future favors those who are prepared. What are you doing now to prepare for the next unexpected circumstance?
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