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23 Nov '12

The upside of crisis situations

Posted by T.J. Addington in clarity, crisis, crisis management, trust
I don't relish dealing with crises. As an organizational leader, however, I must do so from time to time and as a ministry consultant it is not unusual to be asked to help ministries in crisis. One of the things I have learned in the process is that while all crises must be managed and many are painful, if handled well there are also positive opportunities. My advice to other leaders is never to miss the opportunities inherent in crisis. Let me explain.

When I think of crises I am thinking of a broad variety of issues with significantly impact an organization. It can be financial, the death of a key leader, the failure of a leader, a bad choice by a leader that impacts staff or partners or constituency, mass resignations over morale issues, major discontent on staff or other situations that force leaders to go into damage control to deal with a significant crisis. All of us in leadership can point to crises we have had to deal with: the list can be long.

But think about this:

Crisis situations can be a great clarifier. More than once in my long tenure with the EFCA we have faced major financial crises. Some because we overspent and had not controled budgets, other times because of the economy. Every time, however, we have been forced to ask the question, what is really important to us? What is central and core to our mission? What are we doing that is ancillary and needs to be set aside in order to focus on the core. These are not easy situations because they impact wonderful people but they are necessary conversations for ministries to have on a periodic basis.

Crisis situations can build greater trust between leaders and staff and constituencies. 
When crisis happens, the one thing staff and others often do not expect is that their leaders will be open, transparent and honest with them. There is so much spin in our world that we are not used to being trusted with the truth. Leaders who choose to tell the truth about the situation gain great trust from staff. Candid answers go a long ways in building greater trust.

Crisis situations allow you to refocus and change paradigms.
Change is often difficult when there is a perception that all is going well. In a crisis, everyone knows that this is not the case and it is often possible to make changes and to refocus with the crisis as the presenting reason. 

Crisis often flushes out other issues that need to be addressed.
Take for example, a financial crisis. The presenting issue is that there is a shortage of funds. But there may be other issues involved that you can and must now look at including: Are we focused on the right things; are there areas we could be consolidating for savings; do we have a clearly defined mission that causes our constituency to support us well; do we have staff who are under performing? Thus the presenting issue simply brings to the surface other issues that need addressing.

Crisis tests the mettle of leaders in a good way.
The test of leadership is not what happens when all is well but when it seemingly comes apart. Do they fact he issues squarely and honestly? Do they tell the truth or spin? Do they take corrective actions with courage? Do they convey hope or despair? Everyone reads their leadership carefully in crisis and watches their reactions and actions with equal care. 

Crisis builds faith and can unify.
If handled well, crisis can be a faith builder and unifier as leadership pulls the organization together to pray and to work with them to resolve hard issues. Here is a principle: healthy organizations unite in crisis while unhealthy organizations come apart. The difference is in the culture that exists and the kind of leadership the organization has. Our staff and constituency are our best help in crisis situations in a healthy organization. If disunity occurs, it is simply an indication that there are deeper underlying health issues that need to be addressed.

Never waste a crisis!