Grace Under Pressure: 8 Critical Steps to Leading In a Crisis

A corporate shake-up. A personnel issue that exploded. Just-announced layoffs. A hit to the company’s brand.

Whatever the situation, it’s caused a crisis—and you’ve been chosen to help fix it.

Successful women managers should prepare for this eventuality. Sooner or later, word of your excellent managerial skills is going to reach the higher-ups; the way you show you can handle a crisis will go a long way to reinforce those skills.

But how do you prepare for that “step-up” moment before it gets here?

Follow these 8 communication must-haves for coping when the (stuff) hits the fan:

  1. For Starters, Speak Up. Leaders who successfully manage in a crisis know that when one happens, communicating the right message is Job #1. How you tell employees about a crisis and what you plan to do to fix it can make or break their trust in both you and the organization as a whole. No one likes being left in the dark, and employees will figure out fast if management is keeping secrets or putting a rosy spin on the situation.
  1. Develop a Crisis Management Plan. Your company might already have one in place, and if so, familiarize yourself with it. If not, it might be a good idea to suggest creating one before trouble happens; you could offer to start a committee to draft one.
  1. Introduce yourself. If you’re new to the employees the crisis affects, telling them who you are and what you plan to do sends an up-front message of transparency. Do a short meet-and-greet, but keep the possibility of meeting one-on-one with employees open if needed.
  1. Get briefed. You might think you know what the problem is, but let others who have a stake tell you what’s going on from their point of view. Whatever the crisis, it didn’t develop in a vacuum. Employees who are affected should have some say in the process of fixing what needs to be fixed.
  1. Avoid analysis by paralysis. Overanalyzing the problem with non-stop meetings and “update” memos that say nothing new signals to employees that you don’t have control of the situation. Crisis leaders aren’t afraid to go with their gut and make solid decisions to stop the bleeding as soon as possible. Those around you will appreciate your decisiveness and quick ability to call the shots. Get feedback, but don’t get mired in questions and what-ifs.
  1. Be as candid as possible. Give an honest assessment of the situation. You don’t need to include every detail; protected company information should be left to closed doors. But outline the major problem or challenge and what’s being proposed to remedy it. You want employees to feel comfortable coming to you during this time, so encourage communication and answer what questions you can.
  1. Don’t play know-it-all. You were picked to step up because of your expertise—but that doesn’t mean you’re alone at the top. Make suggestions, but avoid taking over. Someone might have ideas that make more sense or will kick your solutions into gear.
  1. Stay positive. This is essential during times of crisis. Quality, commitment and progress can suffer during this stage. Leaders need to be motivating and inspiring; point out what’s wrong, but resist dwelling on the negatives and instill optimism and direction.

When a crisis happens, employees can feel anxious, disillusioned and rudderless. The situation calls for a true leader, one that isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty, to face questions and make decisions that might be seen as unpopular at first. Now that you’ve been tapped as that leader, your goal should be to solve the crisis as best you can, while restoring stability and trust.