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5 Strategies for Leading Through Crisis

A crisis can bring fear to the forefront within an organization. If you let fear overcome you, you may react emotionally instead of taking action thoughtfully. In times of crisis, leadership is the link that can hold the organization together, moving forward with the strength of its unique individuals and the entire team.

In a recent Relias webinar, Five Strategies for Leading Through Crisis, Clinical Consultant Sarah L. Crownson, MBA, BSN, RN, outlined how a crisis can affect your healthcare organization and how you can rise above the uncertainty.

The Effects of a Crisis

When an organization faces a crisis, the feeling of instability can seem like fissures in the foundation.
The potential effects on an organization may be public embarrassment, threats to the overarching mission, blows to the reputation, questions about financial survival, and even personal injury and loss of life.
People on your team will worry about what the negative results might be and how bad it will get before it’s over. To them, the crisis may feel like emotional chaos, with all these feelings swirling around:

  • Fear
  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Sorrow
  • Surprise
  • Shock
  • Disgust

Naturally, your team needs someone to manage expectations and implement new procedures to get control of the chaos. But more than that, your staff needs leadership.

Leading vs. Managing

It is important to recognize the difference between managing and leading. A manager will address the urgent needs of staff during the crisis and work to put out fires. The focus will be on making immediate choices and taking decisive action.

A leader will create a long-term vision for navigating the crisis, anticipating what comes next and planning how to leap over those upcoming obstacles.

Consider some of the key differences between leading and managing that Crownson pointed out:

  • Managers develop policies and procedures. Leaders develop vision and strategy.
  • Managers direct and control, getting people to do what needs to be done. Leaders motivate and inspire, getting people to want to do what needs to be done.
  • Managers explain “what we have to do.” Leaders explain “where we are going.”
  • Managers give directions. Leaders ask questions.
  • Managers are concerned with the here and now. Leaders are concerned with the long view.
  • Managers are bottom-line oriented. Leaders are big-picture oriented.
  • Managers are concerned with projects. Leaders are concerned with people.
  • As Peter Drucker and Warren Bennis have said: Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.

Your organization needs both management and leadership while navigating through difficult times. It is important to address the urgent needs while also guiding people toward the best possible outcomes when you can emerge from the crisis and move beyond it.

Tips for Leading in Tough Times

As you aim to lead effectively through crisis, consider the five tips Crownson offered.

1. Clearly Define the Problem

Identify the current problems affecting the organization and your individual team members. Then you can envision where you want the organization to be after the difficulties ease up and set new objectives to get you there.

2. Communicate Well

Actively listen to team members’ emotions. Acknowledge their fears with empathy and explain how the organization is handling the situation. Share information about decisions at the top, and foster open discussions about how those decisions will affect the team’s work in the future. By listening and sharing, you can build trust and increase your influence.

3. Leverage Your Team

Actively work to forms teams with individuals who have diverse backgrounds and experiences. Researchers have found that diverse teams tend to make decisions more carefully, examining the facts more, keeping biases in check, and dodging the pitfalls of conformity, as noted in Harvard Business Review. As you lead, strive for order rather than control. Set expectations, provide guidance, delegate when possible, and trust your team to find solutions.

4. Seek Innovation

The healthcare landscape shifts continually, and new challenges multiply in crisis situations. Problem solving requires uniting around a purpose, seeing the system differently, and unfreezing the organization. As Inc.com notes, innovative solutions can be found by staying tuned into your target audience’s needs via feedback, tapping into data to stay on top of market shifts, and trying a dramatically different approach to meet the changing needs in a new way. You may have to pivot, and then pivot again.

5. Be Authentic

An inspirational leader is a coach, not a boss. To have an authentic presence, you will need to show you care by asking more questions. Ask your team members to share stories, express their feelings, and provide suggestions. Emphasize your team’s purpose, and support their power and expertise to make good decisions.
As you strive to lead through crisis, keep in mind that the effects on behavior, morale, attitudes, and productivity may be different for each person on your team. Use your emotional intelligence and training to seek to understand and empower your clinicians and staff so you can navigate the unexpected together.


Nursing Leadership

Leadership is one of the most important factors in motivating and inspiring nurses to practice at their best. Truly successful nursing leadership must evolve as the nursing industry itself experiences ongoing changes and shifts. Explore free resources on nursing leadership styles, behaviors, and qualities.


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