In my last blog post, I shared how it’s been my experience that most leaders who are facing an internal or external conflict experience degreees of ‘denial’ before they have the brain power to tackle identifying and understanding what is happening.
While ‘denial’ is common, it should not last more than one or two days because, the longer a leader lingers in the denial stage the more momentum the crisis picks up.
Crisis should always be mitigated as soon as possible.
Okay, assuming that you’ve pushed through the disabling ‘denial’ stage, you’re now ready to focus on Step #1 which is identifying and understanding what is happening.
STEP #1: IDENTIFYING and UNDERSTANDING
First, a basic leadership principle is the bigger the stress or crisis, the more the leader must lead through being present, communication, and never letting their emotions drive the response.
While no one can control how they feel, you can control what you do, what you say, and the tone in which you communicate.
Never let negative emotions (anger, fear, frustration, etc.) be the driving force by which you deal with a crisis. (Be angry and sin not)
Below are some actions that I recommend for this step:
– Very Important: Secure a consultant who specializes in crisis management and communication strategies and who understands your organization’s work. Most leaders are too close to the situation and will benefit from someone outside of the situation. Everyone needs a coach once in a while.
– Remember that everything that you write or say can be used against you.
– I recommend that communication via email ceases so as to reduce liability and other risks. Emails can be subpeoned, forwarded without your permission, and are not secure.
– Determine who is at the heart of the crisis and who are being sucked into the drama.
– Identify your stakeholders. These are people who will be impacted by the crisis. (e.g., staff, volunteers, board, donors, churches, public at large)
– Collect all evidence related to the crisis. (e.g., letters, documents, notes)
– Talk to everyone who can help you understand the issues. Keep an open mind.
– Make sure that you follow any policies that apply to this situation (e.g. personnel manual, crisis management policies). There is legal protection in policies.
– Distribute your conflict resolution policy to all staff and volunteers. I’ve found that having an all staff meeting to go over this policy is beneficial so that everyone knows the rules and the leader’s expectations.
– Stay in constant communication with your board of directors.
Next post I’ll introduce Step #2 which covers some principles for crisis communication strategies.
I have over 1,200 organizations that I call my primary customers or clients. There are several aspects in which I serve them, but among my favorites is in the area of strategic alignment and risk avoidance. I have a passion for teaching principles regarding what to do in advance to avoid as much as possible internal or external crises.
But even the finest risk avoidance techniques may not divert all crises. I have witnessed many times that people will behave like people and cause a crisis for even the best prepared of organizations. Then my consulting work must turn to advising them on how to navigate through their predicament.
The good news for me is that I’ve discovered I actually enjoy working in the world of crisis management and I seem to have a God-given gift for it.
I’m not sure what this says about my personality. After all, who likes dealing with conflict and drama?
But I feel so blessed to be a part of helping organizations in crisis to successfully navigate the perils of an internal or external crisis and watch their leaders emerge stronger than ever as they do the right thing and trust God for the outcomes.
Having assisting hundreds of organizations as they deal with various types of crises, I have concluded that there are actions that need to be taken anytime crisis thumps an organization.
I use a two-step process when helping leaders survive and thrive during an internal or external crisis.
- Identify and understand the crisis.
- Develop and implement crisis management and communication strategies.
In this post, I will address something that needs to be done before you can take the first step of identifying and understanding the crisis.
You see, there are two primal responses that will fight for dominance anytime calamity first arises.
These primal responses are denial and the brain’s demand for facts, proof, data, and clarity.
Denial. It’s a defense mechanism that comes with being sons of Adam and daughters of Eve.
We’ve all slipped into denial at some point. Sometimes it becomes a comforting retreat when we are faced with what feels like an impossible situation.
While it’s a natural response, leaders must deal with it. You cannot allow it to linger or control you.
When an organizational crisis hits, denial whispers in your mind, “this cannot be happening” and butts heads with the primal brain which demands, “give me proof, evidence, data, and clarity.”
Mental health experts tell us that denial is the first step in the grieving process when someone has lost a loved one.
I have found that in the same way, denial is the first emotion most leaders face when a crisis hits their organization.
No one has complete control over their emotions when a real threatening crisis emerges.
But it’s virtually impossible for your brain to correctly identify and understand what is happening while you are caught up in the denial stage.
So, what do you do?
You apply the scriptural principle of “be angry, and sin not” and acknowledge your emotions, but you do not let them drive your actions. To do so would likely place you on the path of failure rather than success.
Dr. Phil McGraw discusses in his book Life Strategies the life principle, “You cannot change what you do not acknowledge”.
Acknowledgment is a no-nonsense, unvarnished, bottom-line confrontation with what is happening.
Most crisis situations require speedy responses from the organization’s leaders. The luxury of expending volumes of time pondering the best response to a public relations or internal crisis is rarely afforded organizations.
Life rewards actions. Moving quickly beyond the denial stage can be life or death to an organization.
Therefore, ignore the denial emotions that are screaming for your full attention and focus on giving the primal brain what it is demanding – reliable, honest, and tangible information so that you can identify what is really happening and create a powerful response.
THE FIRST LESSON
The first thing to do when hit with a crisis is to conquer denial so that you can move to the next step of identifying the crisis and implementing crisis management strategies.
I’ll share about identifying the crisis in the next post.
When is the best time to prepare for a worse-case scenario in your organization?
You got it…before it happens.
During a board consultation, I pointed out an organizational risk. I explained the problem and provided the solution.
While it was one of ‘those things’ that wasn’t a problem until it becomes a problem, it was also one of ‘those things’ that if it becomes a problem it becomes a very bad problem.
The board ignored my recommendation and said, “it has never been a problem before so why worry about it now”.
Six-months later the organization’s executive director called me and said, “Hi Beth. You know that thing that you said we needed to fix, and we didn’t? Well, it happened. Can you help?”
Me, “Of course I will help. I’ll be there tomorrow.”
Fast forward to today.
The financial cost to deal with the problem was over $32,000.
Cost to the organization’s public trust, unmeasurable.
It is far less stressful, expensive, and damaging to an organization to eliminate a risk than it is to ignore it.
I love the Thomas-Kilmann conflict resolution model. I use these principles personally and in my performance coaching work. I share these principles with my clients who come to me for general leadership coaching and those who must deal with organizational or relationship conflict issues — which are just about everyone I work with at one time or another.
Any of the Thomas-Kilmann options may be appropriate for a situation of conflict. I have found that following Dr. Henry Cloud’s teaching on the wise, foolish and evil person is also very helpful when determining which of the five options would work best.
Here Are The Thomas-Kilmann 5 Options When Dealing with Conflict Resolution
1. Competing. The Competing option is at the top left of the model which means you take a wholly assertive and uncooperative approach to resolving the conflict. It means standing up for your rights, defending a position which you believe is correct, or simply trying to beat the other side.
2. Accommodating. The Accommodating option is at the bottom right of the model which means you take a wholly unassertive and co-operative approach. This might take the form of selfless generosity or charity, giving in to another person’s orders when you would prefer not to, or yielding to another’s point of view.
3. Avoiding. The Avoiding option is at the bottom left of the model which means you take an unassertive and uncooperative approach to the conflict and don’t deal with it. Avoiding might take the form of diplomatically sidestepping an issue, postponing an issue until a better time, or simply withdrawing from a threatening situation.
4. Compromising. The Compromising option is at the center of the model because it is both assertive and co-operative but only to some extent. It’s the approach of “half a sixpence is better than none”. Both sides get something but not everything. It might mean splitting the difference between the two positions, some give and take, or seeking a quick solution in the middle ground.
5. Collaborating. The Collaborating option is at the top right of the model and is at the opposite extreme of avoiding. It means being willing to believe that when two parties are at loggerheads, it is possible for both sides to come out with what they want. Collabor
ating requires developed conflict resolution skills based on mutual respect, a willingness to listen to others, and creativity in finding solutions.
For more information about the Thomas-Kilmann model click here.
P.S. If you are dealing with conflict (personally or professionally) please fill out the contact form below and Beth will reach out to you.
My first book, Underground Fire, was published this summer. One thing I learned during this process is that the most comfortable part was writing the book. I just do not have the patience for dealing with a massive amount of details. (And it appears that my patience with particulars is becoming worse – not better – as I get older.)
Therefore, my most significant learning curve with this book was about the new industry language that publishers had to know and all of the steps upon steps that self-publishing requires.
Nevertheless, the day Underground Fire was officially published on Amazon and on other book distributions, I felt such incredible joy because I knew I was supposed to write this book. I felt compelled to put into writing my experience of helping over 100 leaders of faith-based organizations to survive organizational meltdowns.
Already, leaders from all across the nation are contacting me saying how much they saw themselves in the pages of Underground Fire and how they no longer felt alone in their experience. If you are a leader of a faith-based organization or if you know someone who is Underground Fire is a must read.
My prayer is that when every leader reads this book, they will find within its pages the answers, encouragement, and strength to prevent, identify and survive an internal organizational meltdown.
You will find Underground Fire at Amazon.com in Kindle and print formats. And I would love to hear from you after you’ve read it!
Question: I am an executive director of a mid-sized nonprofit organization. For the last couple of months, I’ve been feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. I dread going into the office in the morning. The other day, I found myself sitting in my car that was parked in my office parking lot trying to rustle up enough energy to go into the building. I’m not sleeping well because my mind is racing with everything that I need to do. I feel sad all the time now and struggle with bouts of crying and even small panic attacks.
Answer: It appears that you are describing symptoms of leadership burn-out. Unfortunately, I see this most often in leaders who are hard-wired to be result oriented, high-performers who do not have the right people in the right places doing the right things, chronic board problems or an organizational underground fire.
In my 22 years of executive coaching, I’ve observed that there are three stages of leadership stress that may ultimately result in stress related illnesses and, sadly, even resignation if something does not change.
I have found that unresolved long-term feelings of being overloaded at work is a recipe for compassion fatigue and it’s generally just a matter of time before unresolved compassion fatigue turns into burnout. Therefore, anyone who is striving to be healthy (physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally, etc.) should be on guard for the slipper slop into burnout.
According to my experience, this is how the stages generally flow.
FIRST STAGE: Overload
Description: This stage generally is the “frog in the hot water” scenario. It can catch almost everyone off guard if they do not understand the indicators of organizational overload and make the right adjustments.
Below are common events or situations that may cause you to feel overloaded at work. Feeling overloaded does not have a strong negative impact on your life unless you continue to experience three or more of the situations listed below.
How You May Feel
- You still love the work you’re doing but feeling the need to take a short break or a few mental health days.
- You’re tired a lot
- It’s a little more difficult to get up in the morning
- You’re feeling overwhelmed by the afternoon.
- You find yourself needing (more than usual amount) caffeine in the afternoon.
- You’re struggling with getting and remaining organized. Paper work is piling up.
- Sometimes you don’t know where to begin.
- Everything is slowly moving into the “urgent” category.
- You’re feeling like you are taking one step forward and two steps backward.
Possible Causes of Overload
Below are common situations that may cause you to feel overloaded at work. Short term feeling overloaded does not always have a strong negative impact on your life unless you continue to experience three or more of the situations listed below for more than three monthgs
- A large or long-term project that require many extra hours, focus and energy in addition to your current work.
- Launching a new major program.
- Opening a new facility.
- Manageable internal organizational crisis.
- Inadequate infrastructure.
- Not having the right people in the right places doing the right things.
- Organization is moving into another level on the corporate life cycle.
- Lack of relevance and/or clarity in job descriptions and supervisor expectations.
- Operational systems have not been updated and are not working like they used to.
- Staff is complaining about not know what is going on within the organization.
- Board decisions are taking too long.
- Executive director feels like the board is starting to micromanage them.
- Team meetings focus more on urgent problem solving than moving the organization forward.
- It’s taking longer and longer to get things done.
- Staff is beginning is complain more often.
- Important leadership time is being consumed with executive administration details.
- Big picture strategic plans on hold.
- When you leave the office to go home you feel like you took three steps forward and two steps backward. Nothing is getting done as efficiently as it could.
- A large or long-term project that require many extra hours, focus and energy in addition to your current work.
- Launching a new major program.
- The vision has out-grown the infrastructure.
- The organization is moving through the “doing things right” stage on the corporate life cycle.
- Job descriptions need updating.
- The organization needs a governing board rather than a managing board.
Possible Solutions: If you are an executive of a nonprofit organization and you relate to three or more of any of the above bullets, do not wait for things to get worse before doing something.
SECOND STAGE: Compassion Fatigue
- Possible Causes
- A long-term project (over 6 months).
- Back to back long-term projects without recover time in between.
- An increase in job demands without the right tools to get things done in a timely manner or with excellence.
- Lack of clarity in job descriptions and supervisor expectations becomes more of a problem.
- Staff appears unhappy overall.
- Staff is having interpersonal conflicts.
- Dealing with the same stress factors over and over without a solution.How you may feel
- How you may feel
- Never enough time to get things done.
- Isolated from others – no one understands the pressure you are under.
- Impatient with yourself and others. Cranky
- You are becoming less enthusiastic about going into the center while still caring about the staff, clients and mission of the organization.
- You are feeling very tired, even fatigued, by mid-afternoon.
- You are not enjoying your work like you used to.
- Find yourself questioning if you are the right person for the leadership or management position.
- Problems with the mind racing at night – cannot turn it off to sleep.
THIRD STAGE: Burnout
- Chronic stress over one issue that goes on and on with no solution.
- Extreme disloyalty within organization
- Board conflicts
- Working in outside areas of strength for an extended amount of time
- Not having and/or implementing a self-care plan
- Having difficulty sleeping
- Sleeping less than five hours
- Sleeping a lot
- Crying or easily tearing-up
- Panic attacks
- Physical manifestations that are connected with stress
- Sore muscles
- Cortisol levels too high or too low
- Serious difficulty focusing
- Loss of initiative, creativity, imagination
- Strong feelings of either fight or flight
- Want to get in the car and drive away
- Friends/spouse/relatives (people who know you and care about you) expresses concern
- A few days off does not help
MY BEST ADVICE
Get some coaching that can help you identify the real issues and provide gentle accountability.
Create a self-care plan and stick to it.