Things don’t always go perfectly. Sometimes they’re downright messed up. A differentiator of a leader is how they react during those crises. It’s easy to lead when things go according to plan but what do you do when it gets messy?
Recognize that people will mess up (either like the guy I’ll affectionately refer to as Donnie the Mustard Man on the left or me when I got my tank stuck in the mud). Your reactions in that moment define you as a leader.
So when in the middle of the lunch hour one of your key associates splatters mustard all over the place and customers are piling up at the register, what do you do? You can yell at Mustard Man. You can ignore Mustard Man. Or you can lead (both during the incident and thereafter).
How can you lead through such a colossal mustard crisis, you ask? Good question. The three P’s…
In a crisis, people have a tendency to get pessimistic and view the situation as much worse than it actually is. As a leader, take a step back, have everyone catch their breath, and offer as factual an assessment of the situation as you can.
“Hey folks… looks like Donnie dropped the mustard and spilled some pickles all over the floor. Nobody is hurt. We have some customers at the register who need help too.” See? Not as bad as it looks (despite the look on Donnie’s face).
Articulate a Plan
When crisis occurs, people naturally look to their leader with the question of “what do we do now?” all over their faces. As the leader, catch your breath and clearly lay out the tasks that need to be done. Give specific assignments to your people to refocus them on critical steps to get the operation humming again.
When panic sets in during a crisis, people naturally have their focus narrow. Sometimes they’re overwhelmed by all that’s going on around them. By giving them something specific to focus on, you’re enabling them to fixate on a task and block out the chaos. This reduces panic and moves the team through the crisis.
“Hey Sue, get Donnie a towel to clean up the mustard on himself. Donnie, get cleaned up and change your uniform. Bill, please handle the register and be sure to tell customers we’re out of mustard. Carol, please clean up the mustard and pickles on the floor so no one gets hurt.” Specific assignments. Easy to achieve. The team is re-focused and moving through the problem back toward a stable operation.
Prevent Another Crisis
Crises are good learning opportunities (as I’ve discussed in the previously mentioned post on me getting my tank stuck). When bad things happen, don’t lose the opportunity to teach and learn from it. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to ensure this learning happens and to pull relevant lessons from the event. Once you’ve articulated the lessons, be sure those lessons are translated into new business practices that will prevent future occurrences of the problem.
“So now we know Donnie needs to wipe the grease off his hands before he tries to open the mustard. We also learned how important wearing our aprons is – it saved Donnie’s good orange shirt. From now on, we’ll all be sure to wash our hands after handling grease and ensure everyone, and I mean everyone JoJo, wears their aprons at all times.”
Perspective. Plan. Prevent. This time it’s only mustard. Next time it might be the BBQ sauce and that stuff does not come out of orange shirts!
How do you handle crises as a leader? What have you seen leaders do well in a crisis? What have they done poorly? Share your Mustard Man stories please!