Three Musts When Leading Through a Personal Crisis – Your Own or Others

You get a call from one of your team members on a Tuesday evening that her mom had a heart attack and is going in for emergency heart surgery. Maybe someone from your team walks in on a Thursday morning and tells you she just found out she has cancer. Perhaps your significant other told you last night that she was leaving and wanted a divorce. Now what?

In the face of a personal crisis, either your own or someone else’s, here are three things that will set you apart as a leader.

1. Be empathetic. People just want to know you care. Put yourself in their shoes and imagine what they might be feeling in this moment. Then, rather than believing you know what they need from you, ASK what they need from you. Ask them how you can best support them. Once you know, find a way to give them that. If it’s your own personal crisis, do the same thing by allowing yourself to be human and have feelings about what is happening. Ask for what you need from the people around you, and be kind to yourself. Leaders gain more loyalty by being authentic and transparent rather than by playing superman.

2. Treat each person individually. We all go through life differently. How one person handles a crisis may be very different from how the person who sits in the next desk over might react to the same thing; both will react differently than you would. It’s critically important to remember this so that you can give each person what she needs. Don’t compare one to the other. One person may come back to work the next day while the other won’t be able to function. The more you treat them as individuals, and respond to what each one needs, the quicker they will be able to work through the crisis and be back with you 100%.

I was taught early in my career that I should treat everyone the same, which is brilliant if everyone is the same, and because they aren’t the same, you will get much better results being in the moment. When you ask (from #1 above) what that person needs and then give it to them as much as possible, what you will find is when you need them to show up for you, they will. It’s also the right thing to do. Do the same for yourself. Don’t beat yourself up because you think someone “got over” something faster than it’s taking you. Honor each person’s journey.

3. Be honest about what you need too. For you to be able to give someone the support she needs during a personal crisis, it is likely you will need something from her as well. It might be information about a project she is working on, or it might be that you just want to be updated daily, so you can check in and plan accordingly. If you’ve established a good relationship, the person in crisis doesn’t want to create a crisis for you. She will be happy to share information if it means she can get back to taking care of what is most getting her attention. Keep your communications open and honest. They are the ones most likely to tell you who can help out on their projects, what’s most critical and what can wait. If it’s your personal crisis, do the same for whoever will help you.

Leaders build strong relationships so that when a crisis situation happens everyone gets their needs met. When a crisis happens, respond, don’t react, to what is needed in THAT moment. The only way to know what is needed is to ASK!