Last summer, I was hiking the south side of Saddleback Mountain on a trail that was a connector to a well traveled ATV/Snowmobile road so I could access one of my favorite fishing ponds. Freighted down with my fly-rod, lunch box, back-pack, dog leash, and water bottle, I maneuvered carefully down a gravel path - but apparently, not carefully enough - because my feet gave way as if I was walking on marbles. I managed to grab on to the nearest sapling - but as I did, my fly rod flew from my hand and slid down an embankment. Muttering, I wrapped my dog's leash around a tree and "propelled" my way down the bank to retrieve my pride and joy. The pole was in it's round carrying case, and had managed to roll underneath a thicket. Once down the embankment, I dropped to my hands and knees and crawled through the underbrush - reaching.... reaching.... reaching... AH! I got it!!!
In my excitement I stood up -- only to be gripped by a thousand thorns. The more I moved, the more they seated themselves in to my clothes like velcro and into my skin like meat hooks. My dog looked at me from the top of the embankment, whimpering, wondering why I was just standing there frozen. I took one hand and tried to peel the branches off my fishing vest, only to be stabbed by the sharp, barbed needles making my forefinger and thumb bleed. Retreating my hand as if I touched a hot stove, another branch whipped back and grabbed my bare arm, biting in and scratching. I now resembled the cartoon character "the Tasmanian Devil" as I swore, swatted, and swung my way out of that gnarly mess. Hot, sweaty and bleeding I made my way back up the bank swearing at that terrible bitch Mother Nature, and her audacity to allow such a vile, nasty ugly weed as briar to even exist.
As I sat on the bank with my first aid kit, picking out thorns and soothing my pride, I remembered a time as a leader of a company that I got stuck in the briar. It is one thing to make a complete ass of yourself in the middle of the woods with your dog as your only witness.... but when you have your entire team who is supposed to look up to you watch as you go through a painful experience - it can be very humbling.
How do you lead through personal crisis? How do you still hold it together, stay cool, calm and collected when your world is crumbling? Unfortunately, I've had my fair share of experience in this area. I've been managing teams most of my professional career, and during those 20 years I've had people close to me die, dealt with family crisis, and- most painfully- went through a divorce (both my ex-husband and I were managers for the same company.)
On days I'd rather stay in bed with the covers over my head, I had to summon up the courage to face the world, as people were counting on me. What I discovered was, I needed to learn how to count on them.
Communicate - While I didn't make a big announcement to the entire company about my personal crisis, I did lean in and ask my fellow managers for their support. I then brought my team in for a huddle, and without pouring over all the personal pain, drama and details, I informed them that I was going through a tough time and was going to count on them to step up for me. I shared with them the story of the geese flying in formation - and how when a goose tires of flying up front it drops back into formation and another goose flies to the point position. I explained I was going to count on them to fly up front for a while.
"It is in times of crisis when good leaders emerge." Rudy Guiliani
Trust your team - If you haven't already become a pro at delegation, now is the time. Look at your tasks at hand and hand out all but critical tasks. Trust your team - after all - they are YOUR team. This step should begin long before you have a crisis - as a team leader, your job is to prepare your team for a time they may need to lead without you. It's like needing a good lawyer -don't wait until you need one to hire one. Begin the process of delegating when times are going smoothly, so that if you find yourself stuck in the briar patch, your team knows what to do to keep the business afloat, and, if necessary, help you out of the pucker brush.
Remember -- You are Human That's right - your secret is out. People know you wear nerd glasses and carry a briefcase by day, and your cape is currently at the dry cleaners. Allow yourself those moments of vulnerability, and do not feel embarrassed or ashamed if your team is witness to it. They've been in the briar patch too... they know what those thorns feel like. By witnessing you nursing your wounds, they will feel confident that you have the skills to help them should they ever get torn down.
Recognize Your Team - Once you are out of the briar patch, and your wounds have been treated, and you are back on the path of healing and strength, take the time to recognize your team for a job well done. Often, leaders jump right back into the point position and pretend nothing happened. Personally thank each team member who stepped up while you were in crisis. Take them to lunch, give them a gift, and express your gratitude that they were there to serve. You never know when you might be back in the briar.
Have you had to lead a team through a personal crisis, or been a team member while your leader was in the briar? Share your thoughts....
If you need help putting together an emergency contingency plan -contact me - I'd love to chat with you.
Until next time - Hit the Heights! (and not the briar!)
Priscilla Hansen Mahoney
Leadership and Business Guide