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Personal Crisis….What is a Leader to Do?

By Carol Piras, Managing Partner, The Piras Group

Leadership Crisis

When you, as a leader, experience this yourself, how do you manage through a personal crisis period with your team and the organization?  How much do you tell others?  How much support do you ask for?  What do you need for yourself during this tumultuous period?

In our lifetime, we will all go through some sort of personal crisis be it a death of a parent or loved one, an injury, disease, cancer, or the loss of personal property due to fire, earthquake or storm.  Crises know no boundaries and vary in intensity and severity.  Breaking a bone in your body is not the same as losing a child. For purposes of this article, we are focused more on significant events that cause a major disruption in your focus, time spent at work or home, and your overall energy in dealing with a major upset in your world.

People have different definitions for the word “crisis” and what seems significant to one may appear more mundane to another.  Some people have lived through many crises in their time so may be more adaptable that those who have never experienced it.  Each person will have a different reaction to your situation.  That is something you don’t control nor need to, just recognize it will happen and be ok with it.

This article will explore these questions from a very personal perspective as there is no one answer for each leader in how he/she manages through the period.  How you respond may come back to “it depends” based on your relationship with your team, the greater organization, your boss and other people who will become involved in the event.

How much to you share/reveal to your team?

I have a tremendous relationship with my team.  We have actively shared personal information over the years so there is an abundance of transparency with the team.  If you have a solid, trusting relationship, my rule of thumb is to actively share information when you have enough to share and a sense of direction you will take. If you share too early with your team without information and direction, you may open up the conversation to many more questions that you care to answer.  When you know enough to be able to explain the situation and what your current thinking is about moving forward, then your team will have more stability in knowing you have thought things through.

You may not have answers to people’s questions and that is fine.  Just say “I don’t know” and feel no obligation to have to come up with an answer.

How often do you communicate with the team about what’s going on without it dominating the conversation or group dynamics?

As a leader, your job is to keep the goals and priorities in mind, direct the team about where to focus and encourage them to take responsibility and accountability for deliverables.  When in crisis, this has to be reinforced.  At the same time, it is important to share updates as available at staff or other group forums and more importantly, focus on what you need them to do as a team during this time.  

As a leader, ask for help when you need it.  This is not a sign of weakness or vulnerability.  It is actually courageous.  Your team wants to help – it is a human trait and some will want to jump in to help more, where others may not.  Accept that each person will process your crisis differently. Personalities will play out.  This is a time to set boundaries for where you want your team to help and where you do not, define actions you will be taking and invite the team to participate as appropriate.

How much do you allow the team to offer you support?  As a team?  As individuals?  How do you make those decisions?

To me, using all of your available resources is prudent, whether that means as a team, or calling on individuals as needed.  As I went through my own crisis, I had a whole community of people who wanted to help. The most significant thing I told them was to feel free to “check in” with me as they wish.  This gave permission for each individual to do their own thing.

I believe the team needs and wants to help you when turmoil hits.  They need it for their own processing.  Delegating is important to lighten your own workload.  The team needs to feel meaning, not helplessness. They need to contribute and most want to in time of need.  Remember it is temporary and not forever.  You may have individuals on the team you are closer to so call on them for additional support.  This is truly a personal choice.

How do you keep yourself grounded during this time?

Every leader will personally react to a crisis differently depending on his/her experience of crises and degree of emotion that will tag along.  Crises can create fear and apprehension and speculation about the future that may or may not be real. When we get caught up in fear or anxiety, our tendency is to project the frightening images into the future, thus scaring ourselves further.  

How can you stay grounded and secure?  Leaning on your team, family, friends, or a support group can help you weather the storm.  Taking things moment by moment can support decision making and separating reality from speculation.  Being present to what exists currently can help clear the way for recognizing what you might need in the moment to cope with the change.

Creating space and time to decompress and create inner peace can also help during this havoc. Meditating and grounding your stress levels can help you be clearer in decision-making and in working with your team or family dynamics.  The goal with space and peace is to allow your mind, emotion, and physical body a time out from all that you are confronting.

Going through a crisis by yourself is unhealthy in my opinion.  Leadership courage is knowing when to ask for help, call on others to step up, eliminate some things temporarily from your life.  We all need community in times of turmoil.

How do you balance personal time needed with a crisis while keeping the team focused, energized and productive?

Beyond keeping yourself grounded, my rule of thumb is to ask the team for it.  Nothing like a crisis to bond a team!  Everyone needs to be pulling together and asking for those behaviors can help energize a team beyond themselves.  

There is no rule, right or wrong, about the balance of time.  I had to significantly diminish my working hours during crisis so I asked my team to take a greater role in the business to handle the workload.  Not one said no.  In fact, they appreciated taking on a greater responsibility.  Not all teams are like that.  I am a lucky leader.

Summary

Crisis can manifest itself anytime for a leader and how you handle your own inner   upheaval is unique to each of us.  I’ve chosen to be completely transparent with my team and community as I had nothing to hide with a disease.  Actively communicating when appropriate can help alleviate the stress your team may be feeling and their own emotions about your condition.  

Regardless, take it one step at a time.  Remember you don’t have to boil the ocean with remedies and options.  Keeping things simple keeps things clear.  Choose the best path for yourself with your team, family and others, and be ok with that choice.

“Being challenged in life is inevitable.  Being defeated is optional.”  Live on…


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