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Leading in a Time of Crisis: How Deep is Your Well?

As a former CEO, I’ve led many organizations and groups through short- and long-term crises. As an executive coach, I’ve guided high-performing, high-potential senior and C-Suite executives through extreme circumstances. Although the capabilities required of leadership apply across many situations, times of real change bring out the best and the worst in us physically, mentally, emotionally and spirituality. The potential for great leadership may put us to the test, often in unexpected ways.

Here are a few guidelines for leaders currently in the thick of things:

Calm Confidence. Who are you when the going gets tough? How clear and authentic are you with others and yourself, especially when circumstances move outside your control? Honesty relates to one’s sense of self, and the ability to maintain a calm focus through uncertainty is critical, both for the leader and the people who look to them for guidance. Balancing authenticity and maintaining the confidence that circumstances cannot only be overcome, but improved upon, sets great leaders apart.

WHAT TO DO: Stay calm. Stay focused.

Compassion. Are you empathetic about what others may be going through, even if your own circumstances are different? Even if you don’t understand or agree? Compassion relates to one’s sense of community, and when leaders validate the concerns of a wider group, they open the door to connection and trust. From a more intimate place, great leaders are able to direct their energies both intentionally and appropriately to create meaningful impact

WHAT TO DO: Provide reassurance.

Effective Communication. Have you ensured that your information is current and credible? Can you make sense of the larger patterns and forces at play? Are you able to anticipate and harness them to convey critical messages with a clear perspective? Effective Communication relates to one’s sense of meaning, and in times of uncertainty, where information is time-sensitive and critical, great leaders make sense of the chaos. They provide certainty, clarity and confidence to help people prioritize what’s most important.

WHAT TO DO: Simplify what is happening. Clarify what comes next.

Courage to Act. Do you share a collective goal? Can you positively shape the future? Courage to Act relates to one’s sense of purpose, and an opportunity exists to develop something that transcends chaos and evolves the system. It’s the reason why leadership has existed for 12,000 years. Great leaders have courage in their conviction and aren’t afraid to make bold decisions and take decisive action in the face of adversity. At times, this may include being bold enough to take no action until circumstances evolve.

WHAT TO DO: Be bold. Take action (where necessary).

In trying times, great leadership requires bringing forth a trust in one’s capabilities and experience. To remain authentic, to connect with others based on their perspective, to provide focus and clarity, to shape the future—these are not a set of behaviors, but rather a calling; not a way of doing, but rather a way of being.

Great leadership requires digging deep into your well and drawing out whatever reserves you’ve got, including profound strength and unknown capabilities; suppressing your own emotions and anxieties in service of the collective whole; and pushing through fear and uncertainty to see what’s on the other side.

Like it or not, you are about to be tested. How deep is your well?

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