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3 behaviors it takes to lead in a crisis

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

As the CEO of a regional hospital system took the helm, he faced an urgent situation: The hospital had only 23 days to show the Inspector General that it was fixing the way it cared for obstetrics patients. If it couldn’t, it would lose its Medicare certification.

Yet the CEO used the crisis to unite the team and turn things around.

Some leaders, like the hospital CEO, have developed the skills to thrive with­­­in an intense, fast-changing environment—and bring out the best in their teams.

These days, crisis is the new normal.

“The people who are going to thrive in the future are those who can use this pressure to excel, as oxygen. People who have translated very difficult circumstances into opportunity,” says Justin Menkes, author of Better Under Pressure.

What characteristics do such leaders share? Menkes, a consultant with executive search firm Spencer Stuart, studied evaluations of 150 executives to uncover three consistent behaviors:

1. Realistic optimism. Leaders deft at rising above crisis understand the actual circumstances of a crisis. Menkes calls it “staring into the sun.” Yet they also can see the opportunity for excelling. They’re pragmatic and passionate.

2. Bringing order to chaos. When the world feels as if it’s spinning out of control, a skilled leader still sees clearly. That requires practice, writes Menkes. It also requires energy to crack open puzzles by engaging your staff.

3. Commitment to a higher purpose or greater good. Skilled leaders channel staff in a way that rallies them around an important goal—and converts unhealthy reactions into constructive collaboration.

Should you lack one of the three behaviors above, Menkes has good news: Anyone can develop and learn them.

Bottom line: In the midst of crisis, remove the emotion and anxiety, and untangle the situation piece by piece. Use facts to fight off fear. And allow the pressure to call you to a higher ground.

— Adapted from “What makes an ideal crisis manager?” Vickie Elmer, Fortune.

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