Crisis + Good Leadership = Team

Popular speaker and prolific author Dr. Gary Smalley used to say that if you want to build good memories and a close family, go on a vacation and hope that something goes wrong. Why? Because it’s when there’s a problem that people rise to the challenge and bond together.

I’ve discovered that this same principle works with teams in the workplace, too. We don’t usually have to “hope” something goes wrong. There’s always a crisis that appears to be a distraction or a hindrance to our success, right? But, maybe what seems to be a problem is actually a blessing in disguise.

I work with a particular city that has great chemistry within its management team. While many cities battle to break down silos and overcome turfism, this city exemplifies teamwork. When I asked the city manager why it was this way, he spoke about a crisis that they faced in the past that forced the team to work together.

Max DePree says that the first task of a leader is to define reality, and that’s what the city manager had to do. As he honestly communicated, “This is what we’re facing, and we must face it together,” it brought his team together. Even though they are all excellent leaders in their own areas of expertise, they are even stronger as a team.

So the next time you’re facing a crisis, large or small, seize the opportunity to make the most of it. Here’s how:

  • Shoot straight.
    Define things accurately. Don’t be melodramatic, but don’t water down the truth, either.
  • Focus on finding the solution—not on placing the blame.
    (There’s probably enough blame to go around, but that’s not the issue right now.)
  • Abandon yourself to the strength of others.
    Here’s a tricky part. You may already know what needs to be done. However, instead of declaring the solution, it may be more beneficial to allow your team to discover and develop the solution together. Yes, it will take more time, and they may not do it exactly like you would have, but the dividends in terms of teamwork will be worth it. (Besides, it may be a better solution!)
  • Keep calm and carry on.
    One of the best leadership lessons I ever learned was from a retired navy officer. He often said, “There is no real crisis until there is a crisis of confidence.” As the leader, you have to define reality; but, at the same time, you have to project confidence. Good leaders avoid both denial and panic.

Within those parameters, your staff will find the energy, chemistry, and creativity to meet the challenge… and you might just discover that in the process they become a team.

Mike Mowery

Written by:
Mike Mowery
Director of Leadership Development, Strategic Government Resources

4 responses

  1. Mike, great wisdom. I particularly like your fourth directive, “Keep calm and carry on.” It reminds me of a rule of the US Marines, for which they use the acronym FIDO. It stands for Forget It, Drive On. They use it to remember to keep going after a mistake or a setback, because it is almost always best to move somewhere else than stay where you are when those things happen. Many Hollywood movies often portray a military convey that gets caught in an ambush as stopping to fight the enemy. In reality, the first rule of responding to an ambush is to keep moving. The enemy chose that spot to ambush the convoy because it provided an advantage, so the last thing the convoy wants to do is stay there.

    Also, a friend of mine who flew Blackhawk helicopters taught me that the first rule of being a pilot is to fly the plane. Too many aviation accidents have happened because in the midst of trouble, the pilots got distracted and forgot to fly the plane. In the face of an emergency, first priority is to control the aircraft, and everything else is second.

    1. I like your reference to the military’s policy, Joseph. It’s very important to not focus on the past and press on to what still needs to be done.

      Thanks for your comment!

  2. Mike, You’re absolutely right. Crisis always creates opportunity to either stay on message, or bring about needed change. As leaders, we must realize this and use it as a catalyst for change. Thanks.

    1. Very true… and thanks for your input, Andy!

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