What does "leading" mean?
Merriam-Webster says leading is "providing direction or guidance". I like to think of it as shining a light on the path and showing others the way forward. When a crisis impacts a small business, entrepreneurs are suddenly thrown into a whole new world and the path that was clear yesterday is suddenly shrouded in fog and confusion. In those moments, we struggle with how to guide our teams, what to tell our clients, and how to deal with our own churning emotions and stress.
I've been there. In 2017, my company was targeted in a malicious cyberattack. In the days and long nights that followed the attack, I learned a TON about what a crisis is and how to survive it. I learned about the damage that the insidious poison of fear can cause. I learned about the resilience of my team and clients. Most importantly, I learned about the power of open, candid communication.
A crisis could be as big as what we are facing globally today. It could be a catastrophic event impacting one company, region, or industry. Or it could be something less dramatic, but no less stressful - a major life change, an economic downturn.
The size of people's reaction may or may not be related to the size of the crisis, but it will usually have similar components:
- Denial or disbelief
- Anger or blaming
- Feeling out of control or helpless
- Confusion or paralysis
Ultimately, those all stem from fear. Humans are biologically wired to remain safe, to avoid the unknown, which could be dangerous. Fearing change is baked into our DNA. All humans will feel some of those reactions, the key is getting through the initial fight or flight response and getting back to a rational, cool-headed state. That state is the one we need to create in ourselves and in our teams as quickly as possible when a crisis strikes.
THAT is the job of leaders in a crisis. Get yourself together first, then lead your team and your clients onto a path of calmness from which you can all act to manage the crisis.