Leadership In Times of Crisis: Look Back, Is Your Team Behind You?

Leadership in times of crisis

Leadership in times of crisis is not about charging ahead, but about slowing down and looking back. As leaders, it’s our job to keep eyes on the rear-view mirror. Today, in the midst of coronavirus lockdown, ensuring that your team will follow you is more important than ever.

I wrote a good portion of this blog a couple of weeks ago and looking over it this morning am struck with how different the world seems now. Although fear is streaming to us from every direction, some of us are learning how to turn-off news alerts and taking walks outside, phone-free. For all of us though, this is a time of thoughtful leadership. Our families, friends, communities, and colleagues depend on us.

Especially in stressful times, I get caught up in trailblazing and forging ahead. My whole focus is on the way forward through it. But in the last few days, I’ve been reminded that without making the time, space, and effort for thoughtful listening and engagement, you may turn around and find that you are all alone.

It seems like a hundred years ago. While in college, I attended a geology field camp that based me in Red Lodge, Montana for a summer. That summer sealed the deal on my love of geology and Montana. I learned a lot.

For instance:

  • Suds and Duds was the place in town where you could play pool, drink beer AND do your laundry.
  • Carmex is the best treatment when you burn your lips all to hell (unfortunately, those were the days when the last thing I was worried about was sunscreen).
  • It can snow on the July 4th
  • Our wonderful leader, a professor from Amherst who survived polio and walked with crutches, could scramble up a rock face quicker than any of us AND kill a rattlesnake with his crutch while lecturing on the Elk Horn Basin.

The day came for my turn to drive one of the seven vehicles out to wherever the field work was for the day. What I learned that day was a leadership lesson that has stuck with me my whole professional life.

The vehicle I was assigned to was an International Scout with a stick shift and worn-out clutch. Even more terrifying, I was second in the string of vehicles. I had driven a manual transmission before, but on flat roads, not in the mountains with five other vehicles depending on me to get where we needed to go. The younger version of myself was not brave enough to ask “What if I can’t shift quickly enough and keep up?” We barely followed roads, breaking trails in the mountains to get where we were going. It was so easy to fall behind and get lost in the days before cell phones.

Drivers gathered together to learn what general direction we would be heading. And that’s when I got the lesson.

The driver in front was responsible to keep an eye on the headlights of the vehicle behind. The leader carried the responsibility of making sure she could be followed even if it meant pulling over once in a while and regrouping.

The act of leading isn’t just creating the path. The responsibility of being follow-able is on you. I’d love to hear how you’re ensuring that your team is able to follow you through our challenging new global landscape, so please feel free to leave a comment.