No one wants a crisis. But as leaders, sooner or later we all face one. A crisis brings its own drama; it’s the leader’s responsibility to not add chaos to the mix. A wise and steady hand is needed to navigate the troubled waters. This often requires immediate action, but it must be based on wisdom rather than a knee-jerk reaction.
Crises come countless ways and in many environments — organizational, political, natural (physical disaster), governmental, financial, business, and often personal. These are often interconnected.
Some would say our country is in crisis. Others would say it’s been in crisis and has recently gotten much worse. To avoid political commentary, let me just say that good leadership is the only thing that will get us out of the condition we are in. Wise leadership for the good of the people is required for the successful navigation of any crisis.
A crisis will never navigate itself, and only gets worse if you make it up as you go. That’s one of the difficult parts about handling a tough situation. By the very nature of the circumstances, you are acting quickly and in the “now”. If your leadership isn’t value-based and driven toward a clear purpose it’s easy to get off course and even “crash the company.” Your mission and values are your true north. If you keep your eyes on the ball and stay focused – you will likely come through the storm well.
A friend of mine is part of the senior leadership team in a local church. We share similar roles and responsibilities. He has spoken with me about a financial crisis in his church. The giving dropped far below the needs represented in the budget. Tough decisions had to be made, but they got through it. I reminded him to be careful that the leaders did not overreact or underreact. That is common in a crisis – doing too little or doing too much. Every leader has a bias – to overplay or underplay. Personally, I know my bias is to underplay, so I’m always mindful of that bent and lead accordingly. Do you know yours?
Another church recently hired a new senior pastor. Everyone is excited and hopeful. But the cloud of the past is ever so close. The previous senior pastor left because of a moral failure. He had an affair with someone in the church. He chose to leave his wife and follow a new life. He chose poorly. The immediate crisis moment is long over but the residue is still very real. The new senior pastor must lead with this reality in mind.
Choosing wisely over choosing poorly. Isn’t that the essence of what we strive for as leaders? Knowing this I often lean into Proverbs 3:5-6 5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.
So, really, what good is a crisis? Let me offer three things of value to you.
- A crisis will surface the truth.
A crisis will surface the truth about the fortitude of the leaders. It surfaces what is important and what is not. It quickly reveals what you really believe – and it reveals the strength of your faith. A crisis lets you know what’s working and what isn’t. It reveals the cracks. It’s not always a direct connect to the actual situation, but the weakness is never far away from the break. You will always know more about whom you are when you face a crisis. If you learn from that, you will be stronger and better able to lead through whatever comes your way.
I’m not suggesting by “surfacing the truth” that anything is currently hidden. But it is true that when you are in “business as usual” mode, you don’t always see that which is in plain sight.
- A crisis draws people together.
It’s true that a crisis can divide but that seldom happens in a church that has a clear mission and deep values. In the vast majority of situations, a crisis can help form a bond and galvanize the church toward a new, fresh and stronger place. In crisis people dig deep and fight for what they believe in – that’s why a clear mission is critical. When the mission is unclear a crisis creates chaos. People polarize and vie for power. A church that knows who they are, why they exist, and where they are headed, will become even more committed to the cause. The congregation will stick together and find a way. A crisis calls for action toward a productive solution. It takes time, persistence, and work – but it’s worth it.
- A crisis gives you a chance to make things better.
No one chooses a crisis, but they can help. It’s like personal health. A person can suffer a serious illness that forces them to make a radical change in their diet. It’s no fun, but it can save their life and allow them to actually live a healthier, longer and more vibrant life in the future. It’s true in the church as well.
For example, in the church I mentioned whose senior pastor had an affair – the church is now more open and honest about relationships in general. They all know that it could happen to anyone, but fight diligently that it may happen to no one else. Things have been put in place to make sure staff take a day off, tend to family, and have counseling provided if needed – no questions asked.
About the church that was in financial crisis, they are digging their way out. They are learning greater wisdom in money matters. They were overextended – too much debt and no cash reserves. They had too high a percentage of the overall budget going to personnel. They are correcting these things and several other factors. The leadership is teaching on the topic of giving with greater conviction, understanding and compassion and the congregation is rising to the challenge.
I pray that no crisis fall upon you, but should that happen, my hope is that you find encouragement from these thoughts and you find Proverbs 3:5-6 a source of inspiration, direction, and confidence.