Be the Best – Prepare for the Worst
The thing that keeps you up at night is the crisis you can’t see coming. Successful leaders anticipate, identify, and solve crisis before it’s too late.
Leaders become the best by preparing for the worst.
Where does crisis come from?
“Crisis is the result of mistaken assumption,” Derek Lidow, author of, “Startup Leadership.”
8 assumptions that result in crisis:
- Working harder will produce better results.
- The current team will always be in place.
- Financing is stable.
- Supply chains will be consistent and reliable.
- Our customers will love our new product.
- A new program will solve our problem.
- Believing you know what the real problem is.
- Current knowledge and skill-sets will take you there.
Derek explains the source of crisis (2:01):
Spot crisis before it’s too late. Dig under the surface of disappointing results.
Leaders tend to pour more energy into making things work rather than asking why they aren’t.
- What is disappointing?
- What isn’t working?
- What’s surprising?
If the solution was working harder, many leaders would already be successful. But, hard word doesn’t always work.
Derek on spotting crisis (1:11):
Big answers aren’t the solution. Neither is burying your head in the sand.
The crisis you’re facing today won’t magically disappear tomorrow.
The absolute best thing you can do is take small steps toward better.
Derek on dealing with crisis (1:07):
What assumptions result in crisis?
How can leaders deal with crisis?
Derek Lidow teaches Entrepreneurial Leadership and Creativity, Innovation, and Design at Princeton University. He is the author of, “Startup Leadership.” Derek sold his last company in 2010 for over $100 million.
It is helpful to maintain a risk register, and to seek outside counsel to avoid groupthink. It is helpful to continuously strive to improve, as that will help to reduce complacency and improve awareness of the external environment. It is not helpful to worry or fear.
Thanks Marc. It seems like there are concrete steps leaders can take to answer/mitigate worry.
Well, the Chinese define crisis as hidden opportunity!
So it can be GREAT!!! Depends on how I see it and respond.
People, some who are Leaders deal with crisis the only way they can!!
Deciding the story they are going to tell themselves about what crisis means to them.
Choose wisely, what you think determines how you interpret what happens.
Thanks Scott. The trouble is some leaders wait to long to deal with crisis. They don’t see the opportunity. That’s were thinking of crisis as mistaken assumption helps me look beyond symptoms to causes.
Too long according to whom?
Always good to remember Eisenhower’s words: “Plans are nothing, planning is everything”. In a crisis the solution is usually not available in advance. The plan you write in advance will probably not work in reality, but the planning you have done will give you the agility and ability to adapt and find the solutions you need. Stay safe, Always Care, Paul
Thanks Paul. Didn’t a boxer say that all plans go out the window when you get punched in the face?
Not sure, but that is definitely true! Although I’m also sure that even when their plans go out the window the best boxers can rely on their training to help them start to counter-punch!
I agree, that working hard doesn’t work all times. Its like pushing hard stone wall, believing you can move it. In real, it can’t happen, unless you are SUPER HERO.
Thanks Aarya. Exactly. We better pick our wall carefully.
I think #8 “Current knowledge and skill-sets will take you there” is a very important key to this. Getting comfortable when things are going well does not prepare you for when crisis hits. Being forward thinking and asking “what skills and knowledge will we need in the future” helps prepare for crisis because you are proactively learning and growing to better anticipate and respond to future problems. I have seen this too often where an organization or group is comfortable and everything is working just fine but when a major issue/crisis hits, they are paralyzed because they don’t know new skills, they aren’t prepared to handle change, and they are so far behind that they don’t even know where to begin to address the issue/crisis.
You won’t always know the answer but preparing for future crisis with the right people with the right skill set will take you a long way towards calmly & quickly responding when it does come your way.
Thanks Carrie. When the seas are calm the good captains get worried! 🙂
Crisis defined: “the turning point for better or worse…” In Chinese: risk & opportunity.
Crisis situations will arise in any industry-with the right people and systems you can manage them and come out ahead. Or if unprepared be crushed by them.
Thanks John … we can’t over-emphasize the importance of looking for opportunities during crisis.
Never let a serious crisis go to waste.
Well, I can identify with Number 1 – hard work. In my youth, we were taught that hard work pays off. Well, I worked hard though my career, and did wonders for the companies i worked for, yet I was derailed because I did not see the (internal) political crises coming my way. I was not attuned to my environment, even though I was bloody good at managing the environment for my company.
Sage advice indeed!
Thanks Rajiv. Bingo!! It can be disappointing to realize that we can work hard and still fail.
“Prepare for the worst” is the key to face crisis. I agree that our over-assumption creates many problems and by the time crisis attacks us, we are not prepared. Similarly, many times, when opportunities comes, we are not prepared. One of the reason, similar to your suggestion is “favorable assumption”. We tend to make favorable assumption and that actually weakens our strength. It prohibits us to work harder to face any unavoidable circumstances. I agree that successful leaders anticipate and solve the problems. In the organizational context, people need to understand first and then analyze. And based on ones capacity, option should be taken. While taking any action, one need to be careful and understand its capacity. Many time, people make mistake anticipating to solve the issues but issues are so deep-rooted that initiator has to face unfavorable consequences.
Therefore, leaders can deal with crisis by understanding the nature of issue and one’s capacity. Being at middle level, it may be difficult to root-out bigger issues even those are very important. But being at the top position, it may be less difficult to take suitable course of action. So, when person has less capacity, it is better to communicate to superiors with strong evidences. Empty suggestions are not enough.
Thanks Ajay. You cover lots of important ground in your comment.
One thing really jumped out at me. Prepare for opportunity also!
Two important questions:
What’s the worst that can happen and what will we do if it does?
What’s the best that can happen and what will we do if it does?
Plan for the worst, hope for the best! Always!
Thanks Dianna. A positive attitude really helps…
Sticking your head in the sand when crisis abounds will increase the likelihood you’ll get spanked. What’s worse, you won’t even see it coming.
You can’t pretend a crisis won’t hit you. You can’t take too much risk when times are good (remember big banks during the recession?). If you believe times are going to be tough ahead, that time is the time to invest in your employees in training and process refinement while you can afford it. Waiting until your only response will be to slash people’s employment will hurt everyone involved. If you are frustrated and/or depressed at work, not acting now will just mean the next crisis might break you. Laziness is the ultimate way to turn every little problem into a crisis.
What is the best way to prevent crisis in marriage? My experience shows me communication and effort even when times are the best. Nothing helps a couple get good at working together or identifying problems like good old-fashioned team building exercises.
Thanks John. One of the best times to take risks and try new things are when things are going well. Glad you pointed that out.
From time to time, readers takes these ideas to family and/or marriage. Leadership principles apply to all of life, not just business.
Amen John i appreciate your comment. PTL Steven
Good morning Dan
A very useful post today. I especially like Dereks comments regarding ‘Identifying Crisis’. Indentfying crisis is what seperates great leaders from average leaders. Everyone in your organization is NOT capable of identifying crisis. A wise leader see’s crisis, names it, and publically says “it’s a crisis”. Martin Luther King said,”Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientous stupidity”. Ignoring crisis or failing to name it make it impoosible to solve it. Weak leaders do this out of fear of looking inaddequate, incappable, and out of control. Todays buisness climate changes so rapidly that crisis must be constantly concidered, monitored, and imediatley addressed. New solutions to old problems must be applied, and should be expected. Old solutions and approaches may have actually aided in causing the crisis. Great leaders realize that continuos growth of individuals and teams equip organizations to be prepared for the new millenium of crisis. We simply can’t keep doing things the way we’ve always done and think we will continue to get the same results. These are times when poor leaders bury their heads in the sand while minimising or ignoring crisis, often claiming the crisis is merely an issue that is someone else’s problem. Great leaders will identify the problem while displaying confidence WITHOUT arrogance. They address the problem by engaging others early and often. They challenge themselves and their people to be better, they display humility by admitting their is a crisis, while showing confidence that concerted effort from all is the solution. History reveals that the worlds greatest leaders ARE NOT those who’ve never faced crisis, but those who face crisis with dignity, resolve, and a”never say die attitude”. Truly great leaders breed confidence in those who follow them, causing them to believe something bad can be turned into something good…
One person’s crisis is another’s opportunity. Keep your eye open to your customer’s crisis it is an opening for supplying solutions.
When I worked in Master Control at CBZ (CBC Fredericton), one had to be ready for a crisis to avoid dead air on radio. We had a set of procedures to follow whenever “dead air” happened and were ready to pounce into action at a moments notice literally. However, when I tried to apply risk mitigation or point out potential risks to IT procedures, the rest of my IT management team always down played my warnings and thought I was negative. Frankly, they couldn’t see danger in front of their noses. I lost faith in my manager because of this. It’s good to be positive but if you have a leak in your boat, shouldn’t you point out the leak before you sink? Some leaders like to pretend if they ignore the leak it will self prepare or go away. It doesn’t matter how positive you may be, if you are not preparing for the “what ifs” then your boat will sink.
Thanks Mike. Preparing for ‘what if’s’ keeps a wise leader out of the unemployment line…
Creating an environment that is safe for employees, leaders, and managers to engage in truthtelling is one sure way to minimize crisis within an organization. When employees know they will not be penalized for expressing their best reasons for disagreement with a process or new direction, then fewer crises will develop, Crisis that occur based on environmental changes can be readily dealt with in companies where trust is valued among all the stakeholders. Each company should strive to create a culture of trust.
Well said Earl. “Thanks” Steven
Plan for the worst and hope for the best! The Crisis is only as bad as we make it! Often times we over react and create a mess, most times it all works out in the end.
My father instructed me from the classics”to make peace prepare for war”when your thinking coming into,work try what if …….?
“…what are you doing to get ahead of the next problem?” ~~ an overused question from one of my brightest bosses 🙂
…..burying the head in sand will never solve any problem.However few problems get ‘weathered out ‘ without any serious intervention.For example, some conflicts in workplace die on its own within a small time frame.sometimes hasty interventions can boomerang!
An able leader can time it better.
What a great definition for crisis, yet we are surrounded by mistaken assuptions, most of us make them a lot. In business, unless you make real efforts to keep communications open and trust among team members high, people don’t dare challenge you. In both business and our private lives we may not even be aware of our own assuptions, challenging them is one of most valuable contributions a coach can make.
To what extent can we be our own coach?
Some great clarity about crisis right there. 🙂