Leaders must bring calm in a crisis.
Most of us have heard that leaders need to remain calm in a crisis. Certainly, that is the case. I guarantee if you panic, so will everyone who works for you. But, just because you are calm doesn’t mean your employees will be. In fact, sometimes quite the opposite.
A few years ago, I was CTO for a start up company that ran recurring payments for small businesses. The company relied on email to onboard new clients. One morning, the person in charge of those email servers performed some routine maintenance and they crashed. Hard. The company was officially offline.
The CEO was furious and the sales people were yelling down the hallway to see when the problem would be fixed. My email director was running around, contacting vendors, trying to figure out exactly what had happened. I knew his work ethic and knew he was doing everything he possibly could. One hour passed. Two hours. On the third hour, the CEO considered sending everyone home. I noticed my email director sat at his desk silently, had turned ash gray, and was staring at his computer.
I called him into my office and shut the door. I told him I was not going to fire him over this. I wasn’t really even mad at him and I would handle our CEO. I told him he knew how to fix the problem, that he just needed to undo what he had done. I promised we would look at that happened later, after we had all calmed down. We would learn from the mistake (perhaps not a good idea to perform maintenance during the day) and that we would all live happily ever after with a few battle scars.
He left my office and fixed the problem within 10 minutes.
That day I learned that Maslow’s hierarchy kicks in during a crisis. (For those wondering what that is, check here.)
People in crisis are not concerned about the problem at hand. They are concerned about their well-being, their family, their ability to make a living. And if you are worried about your next meal, you are not worried about things like email servers.
So, a leader must remove those hierarchical barriers in order to move forward. It has worked for me many times. Under normal crisis situations (if there is such a thing), you probably aren’t going to fire everyone involved. But, they don’t really know that. And you can insert any type of worry – getting bonuses, vacation, performance reviews – into the mix. If people begin to worry about those things, they will not be focused on the actual problem.
Great leaders bring calm and fast results follow.