As a leader, it’s your role to step up and organize people and resources to help your community through crises. But (especially in 2020), it’s never “just one thing.” How do you lead during compounding crises when they keep cascading? How do you lead when many of the issues at hand are not in your wheelhouse or seem beyond your reach—but people are still looking to you for leadership?
When crises compound and cascade, it’s only human to feel overwhelmed.
Whether compounding crises result from a domino effect… or are independently ignited… and even those that are not quite one or the other… the call on leadership when crises cascade is always the same:
- How do I lead on more than one front?
- How do I use the resources I had—that the pandemics has already stretched—and now extend them and myself even further to manage through the civil unrest that has erupted and demands attention from everyone and every leader?
- Who’s with me? My people are distributed—away from the office. There’s no one to hug. No one to cry with. No way to share, heal, and think together that feels normal. And there’s no clear end in sight.
How can you not feel overwhelmed?
Anyone would—so now let’s talk about how to lead during compounding and cascading crises.
As a leader, you’re used to looking forward.
You’re used to setting realistic, attainable goals. Understanding the landscape. Creating a roadmap. Laying down a tactical plan and then implementing it.
Your leadership is forward-looking. You have an ability to predict what is next and plan for it. You also know the right actions to shape the future to the extent possible. That’s what leaders do.
So, with multiple crises at your feet, you must ask yourself what all leaders ask themselves in moments like these:
- How do I maintain focus on the crisis I thought was at hand (in this case, the pandemic)?
- How do I focus on the new crisis that has now surfaced—the protests, looting and vandalism, government action and inaction—which are also now compounding the feelings and dimensions of the first crisis, which is still very much ongoing?
- If I extend my focus beyond taking care of my people and community, then am I betraying them? Or is leading on more than one front part of my responsibility as a leader?
To take decisive actions, you need to gain clarity about your role, given the mission you have. This is community crisis response.
So, how can you choose actions that reflect your values and address the compounding and cascading crises?
- Consider how you can slightly (and swiftly) pivot from what you are doing now to be more inclusive of the situation that is compounding the original crisis.
- Consider what you might need to defer or delay in order to allocate resources to more immediate needs. Weigh the trade-off in terms of the results or benefits to your community.
- Consider who you can collaborate with, partner with, or even delegate to in order for your efforts to be impactful.
- Consider, equally, what you’re not willing or able to do. While such choices are difficult, they can free you to choose what is best for your community, your mission, and your values. Choosing not to do one option leaves space for another.
These four considerations will guide you to authentic actions that demonstrate your leadership in response to the multiple crises before you.
And here’s the trap you must avoid:
Every question you ask does not necessarily have an answer. Although I don’t agree with all of his positions, H.L. Mencken 100 years ago had this insight we can all take to heart today:
“For every complex problem, there is a solution that is both simple and wrong.”
Reacting on emotion-based impulses leads you to take actions that are both simple and wrong. It’s perfectly natural to try to remove the emotional burden of the crisis by just taking an action. You’re trying to get relief and taking the path of least resistance.
When, instead, you pause to reflect and process your emotions, then move into deliberate response, your logical mind connects to your authentic values. The adrenaline that misleads you dissipates. You can then take thoughtful actions that are meaningful, satisfying, and productive for you and your people.
THIS is the moment in your response planning when you can decide on your next step.
Be mindful of what you are currently doing: Where can you engineer a modest pivot that addresses the current crisis within the context of your community?
Determine where your next step is, given what you already accomplished during the pandemic. Where you don’t have to “reinvent the wheel” or make a radical shift to change direction. How can you repurpose or use the resources, platforms, communication channels, or relationships you have built?
There will always be another crisis.
Disasters don’t wait for you to be ready for them. In California, we’re entering wildfire season while this pandemic rages on. And who knows what might come on top of that?
Crises don’t announce themselves or follow any schedule. You must be ready to take action to lead your community as the hits keep on coming. You now have a foundational toolkit for leading during compounding and cascading crises—if you’d like to dig deeper into this topic, or think you could use more guidance, please reach out.