What to do When the Ship is Sinking

Posted by Heather Villa, CMA, MBA, MSM on February 01, 2010 in: Business - Plain & Simple, Tools & Resources


We all face professional disasters of one kind or another. It’s inevitable, whether you work in your own business or for someone else. And sometimes those disasters are brought on by us (whether we want to admit it or not) and sometimes those disasters are externally occurring but impact us anyway.

I was going to list a few disasters but then I realized that I could fill the next 100 blogs with disaster story after disaster story; and you’d be likely to match me with your own disaster stories.

So what happens when disaster strikes?
There is an excellent article at the Management Excellence blog that I thought you’d enjoy called “Surviving as a Leader When Things Go Horribly Wrong.” It’s by Art Petty, a management consultant and college professor at DePaul University.

He lists seven tips that leaders must follow when disaster strikes. Of course, you should read the full article for yourself, but I’ll briefly list the steps here:

  • Early recognition. Petty says that you need to learn to spot disaster as early as possible in order to mitigate it. How to do that effectively is not easy but it’s critical. Invite your staff – who might have their finger on the pulse of the situation better than you – to raise the warning flags if they sense it coming.
  • Get rid of panic and confusion. Oh this is so important! Clear, decisive leadership is always needed, never more than a disaster situation. Keep a level head and a calm demeanor and your team will follow you… and likely survive!
  • Your team mirrors your approach. Related to the above tip, Petty says that however you respond to the situation will be how your team responds. (Hey, that’s what makes you their leader). So watch what you do and be very intentional.
  • Trust your team. This is an important one and, if I were making the list, this item may not have made it onto the list. As a leader, you may want to solve the problem yourself. However, that’s not why you have a team. Put them to work and trust them to do it. That can be a hard thing to do as a leader!
  • Break down the impossible into the possible. Every seemingly insurmountable crisis is actually a big series of very manageable parts. It seems unwieldy but when you break it down, it’s quite solvable. And, in my experience, you rarely need to solve all of the parts in order to reduce the crisis to a minor annoyance.
  • Manage the environment. In this tip, Petty says to stay involved and empower your team. Most importantly (in my opinion) stay aware of the situation and all of the moving parts.

These are great tips for handling a crisis. However, the real test comes when a crisis hits. Will you remember? Why not create a file called “When ‘it’ hits the fan” and keep a few crisis management tools, including this blog, bookmarked for later.

See you floating to the top!

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