How to Lead Through Crisis

Anyone can lead through periods of calm. When we have great milk prices, healthy calves, and perfect weather, leading is easy.

Sometimes things go completely off course with a crisis and that is where your leadership is tested. But disruptions also create opportunities for those who lead well through the crisis.

We often delude ourselves into thinking good outcomes, (good milk prices, low feed prices, good health) are within our control. But let’s be honest. Many life and business events are often beyond our control or even our influence.

So, what can be done? Should we go with the flow and get tossed around with every disruption to our business and lives? No!

A simple response is always be prepared. Prepared for what? Many times, the events are beyond anything we have seen before. We have no prior experience to fall back on. We need a strategy that is flexible and can be utilized whenever life throws us a curve.

Disruptions and major events have always been a part of business. Think of disease outbreaks in dairy cattle, manure spills, and farm accidents.

Each crisis follows a similar pattern. There is an event that leads to a crisis. There is also a response from ourselves and our teams. Taken together, the outcome is formed.

Event + Response = Outcome

Events happen. We don’t have any control over them. But our response is something we do have control over, and our response is what defines the outcome.  

Let’s look at some ways you can manage through any crisis:

1. Put people first. To reduce risk for you and your employees; focus on the people. Make certain that everyone is always taking proper safety precautions to protect their health and well-being. Implement protocols and safety training. Communicate and demonstrate your desire to maintain health and safety in the workplace.

2. Don’t Freeze. Most people freeze when faced with a crisis. When we are mentally overloaded with too much stimulus, we freeze. We spin our wheels and make no meaningful progress. Your role as a leader should be to keep your teams moving. Be flexible and agile and ready to implement new ideas. Provide your employees with actions they can take even if they are small. Provide direction on what can be done and who will do it.

3. Prioritize your Actions. In a crisis many events could be addressed but not everything is important at the same time. Prioritize your team for what is most important right now and what can wait.

4. Separate Facts from Opinions/Guesses. As we watch the COVID crisis unfold, we are learning there are many opinions and guesses and few facts. Once the event has passed, we will obtain better knowledge. A leader needs to separate the information that is factual from opinions and guesses as it pertains to YOUR business. Take the time to determine what facts need a formulated response and which do not.

5. Control what is working. It’s easy to get mentally stuck in what is not working and ignore what is working. Use what is working while working through the crisis. You may not be able to control the milk price, but you can continue to focus on the cost of production, milk quality, and reproduction. Control what is working. 

6. Be cheerful and optimistic. Your actions lead to your employee’s reactions. Cultivate a positive environment by possessing a positive attitude, humor, and wit. Each day look for the good. Your team will take their cues from you. Keep your cool and keep smiling. 

In times of crisis, your leadership skills will be tested, and it is during those times it will be clear what you are made of what your team is made of.  While the event and resulting crisis are beyond our control, how we respond will often determine our future success.