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When crises happen, lean into them and you'll grow as a leader.“Never let a good crisis go to waste.” No less of a leader than Winston Churchill said this, and it holds true as much as ever. I love this quote because it underscores the opportunity that can await you as a leader when you lean in to crises like the current COVID-19 pandemic rather than shrinking from them. Yes, you have to respond to the crisis and shepherd your people through it. You’re also wise to recognize crises as moments when you can grow as a leader.

How crises build leadership qualities

I’m not making this up: There is a phenomenon called “posttraumatic growth,” and it’s defined as “positive psychological change experienced as a result of adversity and other challenges in order to rise to a higher level of functioning.”

Don’t you think this makes perfect sense? Think of the personal and professional trials that put your practical and cognitive skills, as well as your coping skills, to the test.

We’ve all walked through fire in our own ways, yet here we still are. We’re wiser and more resilient. And with hope, our leadership skill set is a little bigger.

As a leader, you want to be always growing in knowledge, insight, empathy, and capacity. So, given the compounding and cascading crises that keep coming, let’s talk about how you can intentionally experience posttraumatic growth.

How to seize the leadership opportunity in the current crisis—and the next one, and the next one…

The COVID-19 pandemic will be with us for some time, I’m afraid (we’re seeing some abrupt U-turns from some of the re-opening that’s happened to date). Wildfire season is upon us. And who knows what curveballs 2020 will throw at us next?

No matter what crisis you’re navigating, here are my suggested strategies and tactics for using the crisis in your favor—to emerge from it as a better, stronger leader:
Hosting virtual town halls is one way to lean in to a crisis and grow as a community leader.
1. Host a (virtual) forum. Consider bringing people together—it doesn’t have to be a huge group and it doesn’t have to be in person. People are mostly at home, so they’re more willing to participate in a virtual forum event. You’ll benefit by expanding your network by partnering with other organizations—who provide your guest speakers—that can help connect you to a larger segment of your targeted community. Consider inviting experts into your organization and activities to provide a learning and development activity. (Pro tip: The best guest speakers are people who might normally be hard to reach but are more so during the crisis.)

2. Be a guest speaker for an organization, entity, or other targeted community. This is the flip side to hosting a forum and inviting an expert to join you. Offer to speak on a panel, give expert insights, share your practices and tools, or provide content for someone else’s event, website, or platform. It’s a way to extend your reach and expertise without managing event logistics.

3. Work with public officials to gain visibility, connectivity, and credibility. Alignments with key elected officials are some of the best partnerships you can form. They benefit you in the near term, and if nurtured, over the long term. In my experience, the most effective way to engage elected officials is to gather all your partners to create a ready-made “audience” they’ll want to speak to. This, in turn, can bring media to you and your efforts—especially hyperlocal media, which may be more likely to provide coverage and follow up.

4. Answer a need that is unmet by others who are perceived as leaders. Look at your targeted community and discern the gaps that you could fill and will move you forward on the road to your ideal outcomes beyond the crisis. The uniqueness of your effort is critical if you want to be recognized and remembered: For instance, if everyone is giving masks and you give masks, you’ll be just like everyone else. (Another pro tip: Finding unmet needs is as simple as asking around. I promise you: Every community and nonprofit leader has a laundry list of needs!)

5. Use the opportunity to provide authentic feedback and insights. Share your expertise and push it out publicly over your platforms (such as blog and social) and earned media like op-eds and interviews. Always make sure your insights align with and help advance your goal. It’s time for deeper thinking, so make your thoughts count.

6. Promote others by making recommendations. Great leaders amplify the accomplishments of others before their own. Feature employees, partners, associates, and/or clients in social media posts, highlight them in an email or on your website, or write a recommendation for them. Take this to the next level and promote others in your space/sector/industry that need it or are really doing what’s needed during the crisis. By promoting even your competitors during the crisis, you’re announcing that you’re working toward a true community outcome. (This is the big idea behind Secret City Tours, which have maintained a strong virtual following during the pandemic.)

7. Create new, relevant content—or update and repurpose existing content—to provide value. Think about how you can leverage your expertise—whether it’s as a chef, a banker, a machinist, or a designer—to serve your community in the crisis. You’ve likely done something in the past that could be relevant, and taking the time to create new video, digital assets, articles, or other collateral will reposition you and your value with your community. (Stratiscope.com’s Coronavirus/COVID-19 Pandemic Resources page is our effort to provide this content to business, nonprofit, and government leaders.)

8. Curate a list of experts, sites, or content for your community. Even in non-pandemic times, we’re all barraged with information. This is your time to be that honest broker of useful, vetted information. In doing so, you will become the source for your space. A word of caution: Don’t just aggregate the resources that everyone else is doing—work within your expertise and own it. Here’s an example I use often.
When you lean in to crises as a leader, you create opportunities to plan the path forward.
9. Give your expanded network something meaningful to do to support you and your ideal outcomes. Focus their attention on what matters to you and should matter to them and to anyone in your community. It’s gotta be both, and it’s not hard to accomplish if you’re connected to your community. Invite them to “join us” to create an inclusive space that—critically—is “with” you and not “for” you. For instance, invite clients, partners, and associates to join or match you in your financial support for the local need you identified in #4 above.

Do you lean in to crises? Do you keep strengthening your leadership?

The best leaders see opportunity in crises. They formulate visions and plans to weather them so that they and their organizations can emerge stronger. In fact, that’s practically the definition of “leadership.”

My question is: Is this you? (You’re here at the end of this post, which tells me the answer is “yes.”) I’d love to share leadership best practices with you, and help you with any of the actions I outlined here. Please reach out anytime. Together we’ll get through this crisis, and build resilience and strength to lead through the next one.

Read more:

How to Lead During Compounding and Cascading Crises
[VIDEO] Post-Pandemic Back-to-Work Guide
34 Ways for Businesses to Preserve Relationships During Coronavirus (or Other Pandemic)