Les McKeown's Predictable Success Blog

First published January 23, 2012

How to fix any crisis 

Have you ever lost control of a car at high speed? I have, twice (black ice both times, once in an Aston Martin Vantage Volante previously owned by a member of the British Royal Family – but how I came to be there is another story). It’s a scary situation – one minute you’re speeding along, oblivious to anything except reaching your intended destination, next minute nothing is where it should be, and the only thing you’re sure of is that you’re in grave danger, and most certainly not headed toward your eventual destination. The same thing happens every day to leaders. One minute everything seems straightforward: Strategy? Check. Tactics to match? Check? Positive forward motion toward overall goals? Check. Next moment, everything is confused, mixed together, spinning – and in a very bad way. In an instant you lose any sense of where you’re headed – the business, division, department, project, group or team you previously thought you were in charge of now seems to have a mind of its own, your chest and throat tighten, and the only thing you can think is that you’re about to wipe out. When something like this happens – losing control at high speed – the same three principles apply whether it occurs on the road or in the office: 1. Clarity: The first thing that needs to happen is that you regain laser-like clarity as to what the situation is. The longer you’re numb to what’s going on, or are only vaguely aware of what’s happening, the higher the chance that you’re going to hit something, crash and burn. You need to know precisely what’s happening to you and your organization as quickly as possible. 2. Direction: Once you’re clear about what’s going on, the next step is to regain direction at all costs: pull out of the skid into the safety zone (open road), and away from danger (oncoming traffic, side walls and barriers). Unlike losing control of your car, as a business leader you don’t have the relative luxury of sliding to a stop in a ditch or on the hard shoulder – you’ve got to get back on track while still moving. This step doesn’t have to be pretty – believe me, it won’t be – but it does have to be effective. Come what may, by whatever means, you must get headed back in the right direction. 3. Control: The skid isn’t over yet. You may be out of immediate danger, but you’re not yet in full control. Only now that you’re headed in the right general direction can you then make the final edgy, pulse-racing adjustments that place you fully back in control of the vehicle. As your business, team or initiative fish-tails wildly – but at least on the correct side of the road and facing forward – you turn the wheel, applying first the gas, then the brakes, to finally bring the previously careening, seemingly doomed enterprise back under your command. These three principles: Restoring clarity, direction and control, are at the heart of Predictable Success. In the next few posts I will expand on each, but in the meantime, perhaps you can ask yourself these two questions: As a business leader, when did I last hit a genuine crisis? Which was hardest – restoring clarity, restoring direction, or restoring control?

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  1. Love this Les!  It’s a GREAT reminder of needing to create (or re-create) clarity and find direction BEFORE trying to gain control; I’ve personally made the mistake of skipping the first 2 steps and then wondering why I couldn’t regain control. 
    This is definitely a post I’ll be sharing with people to help them in these situations…

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