What names come to your mind when you think of great leaders? Winston Churchill? Martin Luther King Jr.? Or even biblical leaders, like Moses or Paul? Often what confirms great leaders as such in history is how they led during crisis. When things were going terribly wrong, their leadership was the stabilizing force. And yet, as leaders, we are often unprepared to be in the hot seat during hard times–or even worse, we delude ourselves into thinking hard times won’t ever come.
If you lead long enough, you will eventually find yourself leading through a crisis. It’s a matter of when, not if. And negativity has a way of revealing the true identity of a leader. Great leaders lean into crisis because they intuitively understand it as an opportunity for change. When we are working with churches, we often see a common type of crisis lead to their reaching out for help–the pain of a downturn. But that pain can be good when it helps churches realize they’re stuck and motivates them to seek assistance. Pain can be a great motivator for change, but the approach you take to leading through it is essential.
Here are some principles we’ve found to be vital to leading well when things aren’t going well.
1) Go Back to the Foundation
Too often churches search for a silver bullet tactic that will solve their pain, and it simply isn’t out there. Instead of searching for an easy way out, press into who God has uniquely called your church to be. Make sure it’s clear and easy to communicate. Then, begin filtering every decision through that lens. In times of pain, it is so important to keep the ultimate goal front and center.
2) Be the Picture of Humility
If you want to get through to the people you lead when in a crisis, take on a posture of humility. Great leaders don’t approach a situation with all of the answers already decided; they ask the right questions and they listen well. They dedicate themselves to prayer, and invite others to do the same. The people of God need to pull together during difficulty, and it’s the leader’s job to help them do that.
3) Don’t Overrate the Critics
Everyone has fans and critics. You need to learn to listen to the right people. Otherwise you’ll drift towards people pleasing, and the church will suffer from mission creep.
4) Be Kind but Consistent and Strong
Unfortunately, kindness is often confused for weakness in leaders. In the middle of crisis, kindness is essential (along with all the other the fruit of the Spirit). However, everyone won’t interpret your decisions the way you intend for them to, and chances are high you can’t prevent some people from being hurt. Strong, consistent leadership is the hard choice but the only one that will help chart a path forward.
What other principles have you learned about leading well in crisis?