How to Lead in a Crisis

Hey, welcome to Dose of Leadership. So happy you're tuning in. Another solo episode this week. Today I want to talk about how to lead in a crisis or more importantly, how do we stay composed within a crisis? Seems apropos with all the craziness we're seeing on TV, particularly this week with the coronavirus and the stock market going haywire due to the kind of oil battle between Russia and Saudi Arabia. The world just seems nutty, right? And so it's always fascinating to me. I always like to watch how leaders are reacting in a crisis situation because that's where leaders are made or broken, right? You could almost argue that's why we have leaders in the first place is how to deal in a crisis situation or how do we deal with this stressful situation. That's where leaders make their money. That's why they're there. Gives you job security. Someone has to lead the helm when the seas are rough because anyone can lead the helm and the sea is calm, right?

But who are those individuals who are effective when the sea is rough? That's what I'm concerned about and that's what I love to study. And I do think that's something that we can learn. It's a mindset. It's almost a hundred percent mindset and we'll talk about that in today's show. I want to pitch before we get started, my Dose of Leadership University again, I did that on the last episode. I'm going to do it here again. I've been wanting to create this Dose of Leadership University for a long time. I tried it five, six years ago, too soon. I did create a video course because of it, and I still have it and is part of the university, but this whole idea of the university is allowing individuals to experience personal and professional development within a community, and that's the key, a community of like-minded leaders.

It's giving you real life leadership, delivering real world results. It's all about becoming intentional about this journey. The Dose of Leadership University is going to be your hub of leadership knowledge and support offering you online training videos and an interactive community of like-minded leaders who are searching for significance just like you. The video lessons of my legacy leader blueprint course are self paced and they set the foundation for growth. But it's the interaction with the community that creates a level of accountability that's going to allow you to grow into the kind of leader that you were called to be.

So how are you going to benefit by joining? Well, first and foremost, you're going to get encouragement. Look, being a leader is tough. You know it. You can't do it alone. We all need support. And by joining, you're going to find encouragement and support that allows you to make the tough decisions and lead at the highest level. The second thing you're going to benefit from is insight. A different perspective can be invaluable to successful decision-making. There's so much to be gained when we seek wisdom from leaders who represent various businesses and industries and different stages of life, and that's what the university is going to give you. The third thing you're going to benefit from is growth. Look, the vast majority of people never intentionally take charge of their personal development. The fact that you're listening to this podcast tells me you're intentional about leadership and growth. Most people are just reacting to life. By joining this group, this university, you're to set yourself apart even further by intentionally growing with purpose. The fourth thing of benefit from is accountability. This community is going to hold you accountable. It's going to be your peers holding you accountable. Accountability leads to action and action leads to achievement.

Accountability makes every leader better and that's what you're going to get out of this group. So what do you get when you join? First and foremost, like I said, the online video training, 20 high impact videos of my legacy leader blueprint course. I've used it for 35 organizations. They're spread across four modules and they give you the perfect blueprint and how to become a true leader of influence. The second thing you're going to get is a member's private forum, access to this forum where you can post questions and receive valuable feedback from not only me but the other members within the group. And the third thing which makes this university so unique, unlike any other type of training out there, is the monthly live training. Monthly live calls with me where knowledge is shared, hot seat mastermind type concepts are applied, and your unique leadership challenges are addressed directly.

And the other thing is because I've interviewed over 400 leaders, CEOs and thought leaders on this show, at various times throughout the year, I'm going to bring on previous guests onto the live session where you're going to get a chance to interact and learn from them directly. Something I've benefited from, from doing this show for seven years, now you can be a part of it as well. Look, the whole idea is I'm trying to get this off the ground and I'm looking for founding members and initial cadre of 30 people. If you're listening to this in the second week of March, 2020, I have almost half the seats filled up. I'm looking for the other 15 or so to fill out my founding member set, 30 people. If you get accepted, the reason why I call it founding members because if you get accepted, you're going to pay one small access fee, 350 bucks, that's it, and you're going to be locked in for life with no additional monthly, yearly charges.

Eventually, this is going to be almost twice that price for people wanting to join the university, but I'm looking for that initial 30 people who are going to help me grow this community who are going to provide value. They're going to interact, they're going to be authentic, they're going to be transparent, they're going to be vulnerable, they're going to help grow this community. It's powerful stuff. So if you're interested, go to That's You can get all the details that I just talked about here and also you can fill out a form with your name, your email, and your phone number. It lets me know that you're interested and then we can set up a time to talk to see if you would be a good fit for the group. All right. Thanks for letting me pitch that to you. I really appreciate that. Let's get into the meat of the course on how to lead in a crisis.

Like I started off the show saying that leaders are made or broken in a crisis. That's why we have leaders in the first place. I remember I grew up in the 70s I loved watching the Dallas Cowboys. They were my team when I grew up in the 70s and I loved Tom Landry. I love his look. I love the classic look, the hat, the fedora, and he was always calm. And he had a quote, and I've used this before where he said that leadership is a matter of having people look at you and gain confidence, seeing how you react. If you're in control, they're in control. And you remember my four C's that I've talked about here when I talk about it and which is going to be part of my first book, by the way, that's coming out in the fall, The Four C's of Leadership.

And the first one is composed. Composed, confident, consistent and courageous. The first one is composed. It's so important. I used to say calm, but I remember talking with, I can't remember, somebody that was in one of my mastermind groups, and we were talking about this, that we like the word composed better because calm the difference is that calm doesn't really paint the whole picture. Because the time for me, if my kid is standing in the middle of an intersection and she's oblivious about being hit by a car, that's not my time to remain calm, right? And if she sees me, but she doesn't see this car coming, I'm not going to be calm. But you can damn well bet I better be composed. Does it make sense? I mean, there's a time for urgency and not necessarily being calm, but being composed, I think paints the bigger picture.

Maybe I'm splitting hairs here, but I think that it's the composed pieces is the more powerful and more meaty aspect of what we're trying to get across here because that is what we are called to do as leaders. How do we remain compose in a crisis? Because all kinds of crisis situations can crop up all throughout life, right. I mean your kid can be choking, your spouse can be having a heart attack, you come upon in a car accident, in business, whatever. Just like American Airlines right now where I'm worried about the demand is going down. No one saw this kind of demand happening from this black swan, from the coronavirus. How do those leaders remain composed and get it out there? We have to be prepared.

But the challenge is, is no matter how much we plan, we're eventually going to be faced with a crisis. We're going to be faced with something we've never seen before, much like the coronavirus, right? We're going to be tested at some point. The emotions are going to be high. Communication is going to be wacky, sparse, confusion, the fog of war, all that stuff, that's going to be normal. And then most importantly, people are going to be looking to you and how you will react. And so I think it's kind of like changing your mindset and knowing no matter what you're doing and whatever your position is in job, I don't care what you're doing, at some point things are going to get chaotic. And it may seem like we're always operating on some level of chaos. I do think that's somewhat true to, it's always kind of like a controlled chaos. But I think of the importance of mindset and when I kind of equate it to what I know and what I've been brought up in the aviation community and everybody asks, well, you're a pilot. And it's really, I'm less of a pilot and I'm really more of a crisis control manager. That's really what I'm there for. I'm there for when a crisis happens and to be prepared for that inevitable.

Hopefully I can go through a whole career and not have a major crisis like Sully Sullenberger landing on the Hudson. I know that hopefully those are once in a lifetime events and hopefully those won't happen. But I've had many crises in aviation multiple times and there've been times, certainly when I've been nervous and the adrenaline's has been rushing and I almost puked when it was all over. But I remained composed through it all and it was a learned skill. And I think if I think back to what professional aviation provided me was, when you're operating at that highest level in aviation, you're always thinking, always, always, always thinking about the worst case scenarios. You're always thinking about, well what if this happens? What if that happens? You're always training.

When you go into to every nine months and get recurrent, everything is about emergencies and landing with engine failures and losing an engine on takeoff and an experience of fire and what do you do, and rapid depressurization. It's constant. And even when we're flying on those long legs going from here across the Pacific to wherever and those long hours, and you're sitting there, you're forcing yourself to think about, okay, and we do things up in the cockpit. It's like, what happens if we lost an engine here, where are we going to go? We're always thinking about how to alleviate the crisis. But like I said, no matter how much we plan and we do this and you need to do that because that preparation, that technical and tactical expertise is what sets the foundation and frees up the mental and emotional capacity to deal with the unforeseen thing that you've never seen before.

And so that's why technical and tactical proficiency is so important. That's probably the first step to how do you lead in a crisis is that you better damn well be technically and tactically proficient in whatever job that you're doing. Never get complacent about it. I don't care if you're an accountant or if you're a pilot or whatever the case and all in between is, you can never get complacent within your job. There's always something to learn. There's always something to get better at and I can guarantee you the times that I have been, I can count on my one hand the three times that I in my mind, stepped out into flight and thinking, yeah, I've got this all figured out, and then the aviation gods come up and bit me in the butt and showed me something I'd never seen before or I miss something even stupid, even worse because I became complacent.

As a professional, as a leader, you can never rest on your laurels. You always got to remind yourself there's something to learn. So that's probably the first part of how to lead in a crisis situation. You have to prepare yourself constantly, technically and tactically be proficient in your job and keep taking it to the next level. Thinking about the what ifs, preparing for the worst case scenarios, constantly training. Training is continuous. That's a mindset thing and the action behind that too. But it's at least the mindset is like this is, you can never tell yourself, I've arrived in my position. There's always something to learn. No matter how much you're going to plan, you're going to be faced with a crisis with something new. And if you have that technical and tactical proficiency, your better prepared to have the brain cells and the stamina freeing up the resource to control your emotions, to deal with something you've never seen before, right.

And then realizing, like I said, the communication is going to be sparse. It's going to be confusion. That's all going to be normal. So don't freak out when you see that happening. I think that's another part too is people start freaking out because abnormal things are happening. The unknowns are going to be through the roof, particularly when the crisis is brand new. And people are going to be panicking. They're going to be buying like the toilet paper off the shelves at Costco, right? It's just expected. Don't be one of those people, you just stay calm and remembering that people are going to be looking to you. And that's the part that freaks people out because it's like, well people looking to me and you feel like you've got to have all the answers. That's not the case. So technical, tactical proficiency is setting the foundation.

Then the next thing you have to do, you're in it. The eyes are upon you, you're feeling the sweat, what do I do now, everyone's looking at me. Well first and foremost, you've got to keep it simple. And I know that sounds so basic because it is, but we have to remind ourselves when things are going on and people are looking to us, that's the time that you simplify, simplify, simplify. There's so much external noise going on that doesn't matter. And it's almost like simplify and prioritize. Simplify and prioritize. In the aviation world, we got a little mnemonic device to remind us to keep things simple when the proverbial crap hits the fan, and that's aviate, navigate, communicate, in that order. That's the priority when things go wrong. Aviate, fly the plane. Once I got the plane under control, where am I at? Navigate. Try to get back on course or get to where I need to go.

And then the last thing is communicate. I can't tell you how many mishaps I've studied and we're always studying mishaps and I read transcripts, I've listened to the voice recordings of accidents and people that weren't successful, that have bit it. And it's always sad to me when I see particularly the most dangerous part of aviation is the takeoff and trying to get away from mother earth. If things go wrong then, that's the worst time something can go wrong. And if someone loses an engine on takeoff and they don't get it under control and they crash, I can't tell you how many accidents and one even happen here where I live in my town a few years ago. An experienced pilot took off, he lost an engine on take off and a prop plane, it was a Beech King Air and he got on the radio right away, I'm declaring an emergency, I'm having problems about all this and that, and then he crashes the plane.

And it makes me so sad because he spent his time, energy and resources communicating when he should have been flying. Nobody can help you in that situation. So he had it backwards. The priorities were backwards is my point. He tried to communicate instead of trying to aviate. In that case, all of his resources should have been flying that plane and he probably would have been okay. And so what does that mean to you? It means whatever your aviate is, what is the number one priority? Do that when things hit the fan. Find out what you need to do to keep the ship upright, to keep going down the path, to avoid another tragedy, to avoid another accident. What is the priority at this moment and do that and nothing else. Keep it simple.

And to do that, you're going to have to be decisive because a lot of times you see people in there like, what am I going to do? There's a startle factor there. No matter what happens in like, okay, what just happened here? What is going on? What do we need to do? You need to be decisive. Realizing that not making a decision is usually a decision. But making a decision doesn't have to be a grand one. It has to be, like I said, in the vain of keeping it simple, what is the priority, what I do next, and make a decision that supports that priority, if that makes sense.

The third thing that you can do as you're leading the crisis is delegate and empower. You can't do it yourself and I think that's why a lot of times people freak out when all the eyes are upon them. They're looking to you to solve the problem. But I think remember like the Landry quote, your priority is to remain composed. If they see that you're in control, they're in control. And so that's when you can start delegating and empowering. It's like, I need your help to do this. I need your help to do that. It creates an opportunity. You can create opportunities that have tiger teams to assist. That's when you start finding those people you're comfortable with and say, hey, I need you to do this and hey, I need you to do that. That's being decisive and it starts to get people calmed down like they feel like they're doing something productive. But when you're doing that, I think the last thing to remember about this is focus on the short term. If it's a life and death situation, like Sully Sullenberger, I mean you're focusing on the next two to three seconds and that's really what it is. If you start thinking about, oh my God, I didn't pay the light bill and if I crash, my wife's going to get the lights turned off, that's the wrong, right, that's not the priority.

The priority is the next two to three seconds, what can I do in the next two to three seconds to keep this airplane flying? And the same thing in your business. What can I do in the next moments, in the next hour, in the next day? And max two, three days out, when you start handling the immediate thing and you start focusing on strategy and everything else, two, three days max and try to just take care of things as they come up. But the key is to always be composed and don't freak out because things aren't in order. Handle things as they come. And remember, keep things prioritized.

So I said a lot there, but basically just to sum up everything is, is aviate, navigate, communicate. Keep it simple, be decisive, delegate and empower. Create that opportunity, those tiger teams and then focus on the short term. That's how I look at it. And again, remembering in the longterm, prior to all of that happening, you've had that technical and tactical expertise, that foundation. You're that professional that's always trying to take it to the next level because by doing that, you're that much better prepared when the inevitable unforeseen does happen and trust me, it will happen. The most important thing is that you don't lose your bearing. Do not lose your bearing. That is the number one priority. And think about it again in aviation terms, but equate it to what you're doing in life, right? I cannot afford to lose my bearing, no matter what is going on in that airplane. I cannot because if I do, then I'm going to do something stupid and I'm probably going to crash the plane. I have to learn how to compartmentalize and I think a lot of times people think that, that's not a learned skill. Trust me, it is a learned skill. You can learn how to compartmentalize.

And I'll leave you with this, with a technique that we learn, again, kind of taking my aviation experience into something that you can do yourself. And if you look about when I fly planes, every plane that I've flown, I don't care how small or how big, there's less than 10 items. There are things called boldface items. Things that we need to do in immediate emergencies, things that we have to have memorized, things that we cannot have the time to look up in the book. And it kind of makes sense if you think about it. If I'm taking off and I lose an engine, right at takeoff as I'm rotating, I don't have time to look in a book and see what we do.

I have to do things by memory. If I get a fire in my engine, there are three or four steps I got to have in my memory to take care of that before I can open up a book and a checklist and read things. So there's always, they're called boldfaced items. Those items that allow me to focus on immediate action items, critical for survival. And so that's big in aviation. When you're in training and on your first flight, your instructor is going to ask you all the boldface items. You have to write them down and then you'll also have to recite them to them and they'll say, Richard, what are you going to do if you lose an engine on takeoff? And I remember in training when I was learning how to fly back in the Marine Corps and I was in advanced training, I'd finished primary and went to advanced and I was learning how to fly the Beech King Air because I was going to C-130, so the two engine prop.

And he says, okay Richard, what are you going to do for an engine failure on takeoff? And I recited the three boldface items and he said, no, that's not right. And I'm like, oh my God, I know that's right. And he said, try it again. And he said, what do you do on engine failure in take off? And I recited the three boldface items and he said, Nope. And I'm like, oh my God, am I going to fail this flight before I even get to the flight line? He goes, look, you're entering the world of multi-engine aviation. And he goes, you recited the boldface correctly, but you said it really fast, you said it correctly. And he goes, and the first time you're going to get an engine failure in flight or an engine fire in flight, you're going to react as quickly as you recited that boldface. Someday, if you do it that fast, without even thinking, without taking that momentary pause to get things in order, you're going to look up to realize you shut the good engine down and the one that's on fire is still running and now you've got two emergencies, right?

And so his whole point he says, the first thing I want you to do from here on out in the rest of your aviation career, whenever you're faced with a crisis situation, something happens, the first thing I want you to do is hack the clock. And what he meant by hacking the clock, there's a little analog clock in the plane. Now they're digital, but the same thing, they look analog. It's got a little stopwatch on it and everything else. He says, the first thing I want you to do when you see an emergency situation is hack the clock before you do anything else. And the whole point of that is the hacking the clock doesn't do anything, but it's a innocuous event that gives me the momentary pause, slows the process down and fights my natural tendency to react. Because when you see a fire light in the cockpit at night and a red flashing fire light and a horn goes off, you want to react. And the tendency is the whole fight or flight response, you want to slow that down.

You want to take a moment. And hacking the collage allows me to remain composed under pressure. It's normal to be afraid. It's normal to be stressed. It's normal to have your emotions running high. And so how you can equate to this is, no matter what happens, the next time you're faced with it, irate customer comes up to you, your kid lips off to you, you get in an argument with your spouse, someone cuts you off in traffic or the coronavirus is impacting your company, your business, and you don't know where your next payroll is going to come from because cashflow is just dried up. Whatever the case may be, find something, do something innocuous, hack the clock and hack the clock can mean anything. Go take a walk, pick up a book, pick your nose, scratch your butt, do something innocuous that's going to take your mind off of the reaction or the natural tendency to react and do something right away.

Be decisive, but you got to keep it simple. I hope this makes sense. I hope you got some value out of this conversation. Let me know what you think. Reach out to me at You can go to a contact form there or you can send me an email directly at I love getting the feedback, particularly in these solo episode. I got a tremendous amount of feedback on the last episode. In fact, I should have opened up that episode talking about some of that because there's some clarification I wanted to talk on the last episode. If you didn't listen to the one previous to this one, that was about bot being afraid to make things a little uncomfortable and I've got a lot of feedback from that one. Mostly positive. One thing of clarification, if you haven't listened to it, go back and listen to it again and I want to clarify too on the previous episode, the whole thing about not being afraid to make things uncomfortable doesn't mean you're an intimidating jerk, right? This isn't about intimidation for intimidation sake. It's about not feeling like you have to jump in and rectify every situation.

There are times when you need to let your people grow and transform on their own and sometimes that means making them feel a little uncomfortable to do that. And by making them uncomfortable, it's like you watch the transformation or you don't interrupt the process that's going to be much more beneficial if you try to jump in and try to pacify or encourage or inspire on your own. It's not to say that encouragement inspiring isn't needed and sometimes it is. And sometimes the sandwich theory, like I talked about in the last episode is needed as well. But I'm saying sometimes, maybe there's times to withhold that. Sometimes it may be all you need to say is, that's not acceptable, come back to me when you're ready to talk business instead of trying to, hey, what went wrong and this and that. There are time and place for all of that, but I'm just saying don't be afraid to make things uncomfortable.

Anyway, just a little clarification from the last episode. Thanks for being a part of the show. Thanks for being supportive and my call to action for you is two things. First of all, check out the Dose of Leadership University like I talked about at the beginning of the episode. The second thing is if you're getting value out of this show, find somebody today. Go find a relative. Go find a friend, tell your spouse to your kids. Share this show with somebody, to at least one person, and let them know about Dose of Leadership, who doesn't know anything about podcasts and you've never heard this before and share this with them if you're getting some value out of it. It means the world to me when you do that. It's the only way I can keep the show going by your support and your continuing to subscribe rate and review allows me to do this for free, to give you this free resource. And the only way can do that, the only thing I'm asking for is if you take the time to share this with somebody and take the time of subscribe, rate and review on your favorite podcast app. It allows me to stay front and center and continue to grow this audience. And I appreciate your support. All right. Thanks again. I look forward to the next time we meet and until then, make it a great one.

powered by

It’s inevitable that at some point in your life you will face a situation that will require you to remain composed under pressure.

Your child is choking, a customer is irate and irrational, a team member is not pulling his weight, you come upon a car accident, you fly your aircraft through a flock of birds on take-off and lose all of your engines…

How you respond to stressful situations will make or break you as a leader.

As leaders, we have no choice but to remain composed, regardless of the situation.  Therefore it’s required that we learn how to compartmentalize our emotions and fear.

A compartmentalization technique I learned in aviation is what’s called “Hack the Clock”.

In this podcast, I discuss compartmentalization techniques that I learned in flight school that can help you remain calm in stressful situations.

Leave a Reply