Productive Leaders

Ph.D., CSP, CDR, US Navy Ret.,
CPAE Speaker Hall of Fame

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Part 1: Leading Through a Crisis

True leaders realize that during times of crisis certain aspects of leadership need to shift.  A crisis creates a sense of loss, fear, and scarcity.  Leaders need to step up with more and better communication, more empathy, and more flexibility. We also need more strategic leadership, focused action, and a calm plan with clear goals. As leaders, we need to help people take the correct action at the right time.

Fires, floods, natural disasters, and this most recent pandemic emphasize the necessity for people to analyze what we need to do in crisis situations.

During any difficult situation, whether caused by mother nature, a hostile business takeover, or a company reorganization, the need for strong leadership is critical. A lack of leadership during a crisis is glaringly evident.

How can we best lead through a crisis?

First, acknowledge the problem. Make sure that we, as the people in charge, understand the real issues and the true nature of the crisis. Once we are clear, we need to view the crisis from other perspectives. Sometimes we are so worried about our own role that we neglect how others are feeling, how they are affected, and how they are viewing the issue. It is especially easy during a crisis to feel as though we need to circle the wagons, be more protective, and view issues myopically. As leaders, we need to have a broader view, and understand how others approach the issue.  Other people may be impacted in a way we had not anticipated.

Second, articulate possible courses of action and potential outcomes, so everyone understands what is at stake. Ask the “what if?” questions, and get factual answers. Rumors, misinformation, and fear exaggerate the real problem and cause us to lose focus.

  1. Get facts
  2. Understand the worst-case scenario
  3. Map out potential outcomes
  4. Plot out several possible courses of action for each scenario

Third, calmly figure out the right course of action and develop strategy with your team. Solicit input from everyone.  Map out what we need to do. Look at policies. To find the right course of action, ask:

  1. Can we learn from past events?
  2. Has anything like this happened before?
  3. Have we dealt with this particular problem or situation in the past?
  4. What worked well?
  5. What do we not need to repeat?
  6. Have you already planned for this situation?
  7. Has someone else already worked through what needs to happen?
  8. What do we need to do to make progress in the right direction?

When 9-11 happened, I was in the Navy.  My admiral at the time called all of his top leaders to meetings every day at 7 AM and 7 PM in the conference room, then dubbed the “war room.”  He had his staff brief us, and then we all briefed each other, and then he concluded with his thoughts.  This allowed us to have solid situational awareness of what others were doing, what they needed so we could support them, and gave us information to take back to our people.

Understand the issue.
Get facts.
Create strategy.

In my new book, Who Comes Next? Leadership Succession Planning Made Easy, Meridith Elliott-Powell and I created a series of tools and forms that help with strategic planning.

If you need some help or want to talk through your organization’s current situation, book a call with me at


  1. Valerie Chavez

    Just love the information that you send us.
    Thank you,

    • Mary Kelly

      Thank YOU, Val! You made my day. 🙂


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