Ten Lessons for Leading During Crisis

I like to share great articles I find – since we can all learn from each other.   This one from ProjectTimes.com talks about a great book by Linda Henman on ‘Landing in the Executive Chair’ where she talks about what a leader should learn in order to prepare for a crisis and what a leader should do during a crisis.  If you haven’t read the book – get it – but this article will give you the highlights and lessons that you can put into practice right away.

It doesn’t matter if you are using Agile – Lean – Waterfall – or some other practices…Crisis rears it’s ugly head in many projects – and when you least expect it.  Project Managers will find these ten lessons of great value in preparation to minimize the impact to their projects and their organizations.

Lesson 1: Heed the Early Warning Signs

There are often early warning signs that a storm is brewing. Sailors have a saying, ‘Red sails in morning, sailor take warning, Red sails at night, sailors delight.’ Take notice of early warning signs in your project. Be aware of persistent customer, stakeholder or project member complaints, rumors, turnover in the project, and resistance to change due to innovation or technology.  These always seem to start off small and begin to swell. Don’t ignore them and find out exactly if there is the potential of a problem brewing over the horizon.

Lesson 2: If You Can’t Prevent a Crisis, at Least Contain It

After a crisis has occurred, you will want to contain it as quickly as you can by getting accurate information as to what was the real cause of the crisis and what are the ramifications. Next you need to act quickly and decisively, communicating correctly to all levels while behaving ethically as you attempt to contain the crisis. These are the tools of Crisis Management which the project manager must deal with whenever an event occurs that may threaten to harm the project. Three elements which are common to most occurrences of crisis management:

  • threat to the project
  • element of surprise
  • short decision time

You want to stop the ship from sinking.

Lesson 3: Never Run Out of Altitude, Airspeed and Ideas at the Same Time

To ensure project success, the project manager should employ the following techniques during a crisis.

Altitude – This relates to maintaining focus on the big picture required for the leadership of a project such as project vision, critical thinking, ability to prioritize, motivation, and continually moving forward to accomplish objectives.

Airspeed – This relates to the velocity and forces that make a project go forward such as building relationships, having a good sense of humor, motivation through follow through, willingness to listen, capacity to convey respect to others and their ideas, and confidence to tell project team members what they need to know. All of these fuel us to provide the airspeed to keep the project moving onward.

Never Running out of Ideas – This relates to the project manager’s ability to brainstorm and incorporate creativity, maintain enthusiasm while challenging existing processes, inviting input from others from a variety of perspectives, and a willingness to try novel approaches and champion innovation. The author states: ‘Having ideas makes us mentally flexible, which in turn equips us to see things from several perspectives, tolerate uncertainty, adapt to changes, and solve problems in new ways.’

During rough seas, a skilled captain not only knows how to successfully navigate through the rough waters but at the same time displays confidence to the crew.

Lesson 4: Face Reality

There comes a time when we must formally acknowledge that a crisis has occurred and communicate this to everyone. Don’t ignore or deny the urgency and severity of the crisis but rather confront it and take charge of the situation. Don’t blame other people or external events for the cause of the crisis. Your job is to take resolve the situation as best you can.

Lesson 5: Prepare, Don’t Practice Bleed

Practice bleeding is a term the author uses to describe the tendency to suffer before the real pain begins. This relates to how you handle risks that you have identified through your risk analysis but are unable to avoid, transfer or mitigate. You have accepted the chance that the risk can occur and that there is a high probability that it will play havoc with your project. The anticipation of the risk is causing the project manager, and the team, great pain and suffering (bleeding) well before its occurrence.  This in turn interferes with your ability to manage. Others will notice the distraction and your leadership will be in jeopardy.

>> To read about Lessons 6 – 10, CLICK HERE

AUTHOR: Steve Blash, PMP  is an experienced IT professional project manager consultant providing leadership, mentoring, and training in Project Management. His areas of experience include business process improvement, business analysis, business intelligence, data analytics, project and IT management.