Leading Your Team Through a Crisis

July 14, 2018
Mary Jo Asmus

Every once in a while, I work with a leader who heads up an organization that has been traumatized by an event or situation. This can be difficult work for the leader because they need to acknowledge and work with the suffering the employees are experiencing while continuing to move forward with the organizational mission.

Helping a team work through something that devastated them is hard work that every leader may not be naturally cut out for. It requires the leader to call up a great deal of empathy and compassion. Yet it is possible for even the “toughest” leader to bring forward some thoughtful understanding that will help the team to get through difficulty.

You can begin here:

Believe in your team and their ability to get through whatever crisis they’ve experienced. Let them know that you will support them as they go through their personal processing. Ask each individual what they need to become whole again and, when possible, grant them what they need.

Listen to their stories and notice emotions because these can be an indication of where they are at in getting through the crisis. Know when they become overwhelmed with emotion and just listen. Sometimes doing this processing with the team as a whole can help each person  to realize that they aren’t alone.

Stay calm and nonjudgmental when emotions run high. Be the voice of calm, reasoned decisions. As a leader, you are being watched for your reaction, and your team will mirror your behavior. When you stay calm and nonjudgmental, chances are that they will also.

Support them in changing their behavior by coaching them to their personal and team goals. This helps them to consider a more energizing future and can help to take the focus off the crisis they’ve experienced. Recognize and acknowledge their progress.

Gently and firmly reiterate the organizational mission when you can. While you are paying attention to their emotional side, there is still work that needs to be done. Know that this is not the time to push hard, but to let the team know with care that work will and must continue.

Recognize when it’s time to move on and if some of the team isn’t able to put the trauma aside, perhaps it’s time for a heart to heart discussion. Let them know what is expected of them, and if team members aren’t able to move on in order to reach goals, perhaps it’s time for you to help them to consider other options than staying where they are.

Crisis happens in almost every organization at some time. The way you lead will help employees to move through it and to focus on the work at hand.

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Mary Jo Asmus is an executive/leadership coach whose work spans decades of making a difference in the lives of hundreds of executives, leaders and teams in Fortune 500, mid- and small- sized business, governments and nonprofits. She focuses on facilitating individuals and teams from first-line supervisor to the C-suite to create, develop, and influence the relationships that can make them extraordinary.

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