The 3 Things You Need to Overcome Any Crisis

April 3, 2017, 10:00 AM UTC
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The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question, “Who do you turn to in a crisis and why?” is written by Lauren Stiller Rikleen, president of the Rikleen Institute for Strategic Leadership and author of You Raised Us, Now Work With Us: Millennials, Career Success, and Building Strong Workplace Teams, and the newly released Ladder Down: Success Strategies For Lawyers From Women Who Will Be Hiring, Reviewing, And Promoting You.

Life can be filled with crises, large and small. Lacking respect for work-life boundaries, crises inconveniently arise in our personal lives and in our work. Moreover, a crisis has a way of appearing at the worst possible time.

While we can never be truly prepared for a crisis, we can do our best to anticipate categories of crises that arise and have a game plan for responding.

In my experience, those who overcome life’s inevitable crises have three basic principles in place. First, they have a strong and varied network of trusted advisors. Second, they avoid panic and instead break the necessary responses down into component parts. Third, they maintain flexibility, knowing that the best plans can fall victim to unforeseen circumstances.

In the many years I spent practicing environmental law, I worked with clients whose businesses experienced sudden chemical spills as well as those who inherited or purchased contaminated properties on polluted and unstable land. Few small and mid-size businesses can ever be fully prepared for that type of problem, but the ones who fared the best had in place relationships with trustworthy professionals and a willingness to view their potentially long-term crisis as a series of small steps to be addressed one at a time. They also sought the support of friends and family to help keep them from becoming overwhelmed.

In the speaking and training I now do, I see workplace crises of a different nature. Sometimes unnecessary situations arise because workplace problems are ignored for too long. The slow trickle of attrition turns into a steady flow of frustration as female and minority employees who cannot advance or are not paid commensurate with their talents seek a more hospitable environment. And younger employees who see a workplace uncomfortable with change leave to start their own adventures.

These workplaces are not unlike a business faced with an environmental crisis. Talent management is as important to the sustainability of an organization as is weathering the effects of a chemical spill or underground pollution. Any crisis requires a thoughtful and appropriate response. Sometimes the problem needs steady attention, while other times you will find yourself having to respond quickly to an emergency.


For working parents, life is full of crises large and small. Coming home to a notice stuck in a child’s backpack inviting parents to a school event the next morning, or a last-minute request to bake for a class party, can leave even the most organized working parent in a panic. But these pale in comparison to a sudden illness or more serious medical crisis, which can throw a household into complete pandemonium.

When I was faced with these work-life crises, I recall that having the proverbial village to help me through eased every roadblock. A spouse shares the load while extended family can be called upon to provide all the necessary backup, including the emergency care of one child while the other is hospitalized, or the offer of a sympathetic ear and wise counsel to navigate the challenge.

The key is to anticipate where trouble spots are likely to arise and develop plans for avoiding them if possible. Having crisis management teams in place for every aspect of your life can help you meet a vast range of challenges. These teams should include valued employees, outside professionals, and caring friends and family. Large crises may require all hands on deck.

It is always important to remember that each crisis helps build a reservoir of resilience. So even as we rely on our network of support, we can also look within for the strength we need to weather our storms.

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