Leadership Mindset Matters Most in a Crisis

by Denice R. Hinden, PhD, PCC, President, Managance Consulting & Coaching

August 20, 1992 the weather forecast predicted a big hurricane making landfall in the City of Miami, Florida.  As the deputy director of the local emergency shelter for runaway and homeless youth, we decided to move our residents in Miami further south to the shelter in Homestead.


Then the unthinkable happened.  Hurricane Andrew—the worst to hit South Florida in some 60 years—turned and made landfall in Homestead and our residents were at ground zero!  Our good fortune was the new shelter in Homestead was one of the few buildings that stood up to the storm, but we had to respond quickly mountains of debris and no water or electricity in the dog days of August.

It was a frightening, stressful, and exhausting time.  We never considered the possibility that the storm could change course and we didn’t have a well thought out plan for a variety of scenarios that could have unfolded.  Once the immediate crisis passed and we moved into the rebuilding phase,  we did a much better of job considering our options.  Hindsight does that to you.  It brings more clarity as you look forward.

Learn the tools to both prepare your executives to lead the organization through a crisis and assure your company can weather any imminent storm, when you attend “Leading Through Crisis: How to Define Response Scenarios and Develop Comprehensive Contingency Plans” Thursday, December 1, 2016. Register today for this timely HR event

Crisis management is the process by which an organization deals with a major unpredictable event that threatens to harm the organization, its stakeholders, or the general public.  The first step in any good plan is assigning responsibility for it in leader position descriptions.  It also needs to be a regular part of operational strategy and planning, beginning with understanding the variety of crises that the organization could experience and what will be its road map for responding.

There is no one best crisis management strategy and every organization has a different operating context to consider.  A good place to start your planning is exploring how these eight types of unpredictable events could impact your organization and how you want to be prepared to respond:

  • Natural disasters
  • Malevolence—vicious ill will, spite, or hatred
  • Technical breakdowns
  • Human breakdowns
  • Financial or other challenges
  • Organizational misdeeds
  • Workplace violence
  • Rumors

In every case the severity or magnitude of the damage is an important consideration as well.

Beyond a good plan and well developed strategy,  in my experience, the mindset of responsible leaders matters the most.  By mindset, I mean the mental attitude or disposition that predetermines a person’s responses to and interpretations of situations.

It matters most because a leaders’ mindset influences the quality of their response overall and the confidence of everyone involved.  The mindset framework in the book, Energy Leadership: Transforming Your Workplace and Your Life from the Core by Bruce D Schneider (John Wiley & Sons, 2008) offers seven options every leader can choose from to bring your best self to managing in a crisis.

A leader’s default mindset—where the leader goes first in their thoughts—influences how confidently and quickly they effectively navigate the upheaval of a crisis and lead from a positive productive place.  Consider these 7 different options:

  1. It’s my fault I didn’t predict this crisis. This is a hopeless disaster that we’ll never recover from. 
  2. It was this leader’s or that leader’s fault. They didn’t do their jobs in planning for this possibility.  They ruined our company and they need to pay for it. 
  3. We’ll cope. We have the resources, we have options.  We can come up with good alternative. 
  4. I want the recovery to go as well as possible. We’ve managed hundreds of challenging situations. What did I do in the past to be successful in a pinch that can help us now?
  5. I’ll pull together a cross-organizational team to guide the recovery. Together we’ll develop the most effective approach.
  6. I’m trusting my instincts. What we learn in this recovery will change the course of our organization in valuable ways.  
  7. I love being a leader. Crisis management is one more way for leaders to demonstrate what we are made of.  This crisis is an opportunity for all of us to be better and do better in our work. 

The question now becomes, what default mindset will you lead from?  A default mindset at level 5 or above brings with it a calm confidence and a trust in collaboration as the platform for knowing what and how to prepare, knowing what and how to effectively communicate, and knowing what and how to use the lessons learned be prepared to weather the next storm.

For more information on leading through a crisis in 2017, join Denice as she presents: Leading through Crisis—Top Executive Skills for 2017,” on Thursday, December 1, 2016. Click here for more information, or to register today!

Denice Hinden’s mission is igniting joy and well-being into the workplace through intentional positive leadership.   Since 2000, as president of Managance Consulting & Coaching, Denice has invigorated the management and performance of staff and Board leaders in more than 100 nonprofit, public, and private organizations with transforming strategic planning, and leveling up leadership with all levels of leaders and teams. 

Denice is co-author of The Nonprofit Organizational Culture Guide: Revealing the Hidden Truths that Impact Performance (Jossey-Bass, 2011).  She holds an M.S. in Human Services and a PhD in Public Administration.  She is a Professional Certified Coach, Energy Leadership Index Master Practitioner, and Conversational Intelligence Enhanced Skills Coach.  Denice is also conversational in Spanish and can be reached at drhinden@managance.com.