How Self-Reflection Can Help You Lead Through a Crisis

By Mark J. Cappone

During my military career, I was accustomed to relying on existing organizational procedures for use during day-to-day operations, as well as during times of crisis. Our libraries were replete with “standard operating procedures” and “tactics, techniques and procedures” that articulated the way things were supposed to work.

Rather than being an inflexible regimen of directives however, these measures served as a common organizational start point during times of crisis that might then be modified based on the current situation.

Leaders can apply existing knowledge in similar ways while leading through a crisis. It pays to stop and reflect from time to time on what we already know and how we might apply it to the current situation.

An example of this is reflecting on the myriad leadership styles we may have studied in college or read about in professional publications. What approaches do these theories espouse? How do they apply in the application of leading during our current crisis environment?

One example we can use is a reflection on the Situational Leadership Model developed by Hersey and Blanchard. As highlighted in the graphic below, this style entails leaders adapting both directive and supportive behaviors — depending on the levels of competence and commitment that their individual team members are displaying in the current situation.[i]


The Situational Leadership II Model. From Leadership and the One Minute Manager: Increasing Effectiveness Through Situational Leadership II, by K. Blanchard, P. Zigarmi, and D. Zigarmi, 2013, New York, NY: William Morrow.

Key here is the leader’s use of emotional intelligence to empathize with and understand what his or team members are experiencing and how that might influence their leadership approach.

For instance, when evaluating competence during the COVID-19 crisis, how might the current environment be affecting a very skilled professor’s competence and what new approach might be needed as she is being forced to teach online for the first time in her 32-year career? Take a look at that graphic. Instead of continuing to apply the same highly delegative S4 style, what supportive S3 approaches like listening, praise and feedback might be needed to better support her?

Similarly, as leaders evaluate team member commitment during the current pandemic, how might a highly devoted and loyal one-year call center employee be affected as he now works from home as a single parent with two children who are attending elementary school online? Instead of the highly supportive and lower directive S3 approach, how might more coaching and direction in an S2 style better help with his time management and adherence to completing the most critical tasks as he balances commitments to both his job and his family?

As we are continually inundated with advice and ‘how to’ articles (such as this piece!), it pays to pause and reflect on what we already know. Our leadership responsibility is to think about our team members and how they are being impacted during critical times, and then use that knowledge by adjusting our leadership styles to better foster their motivation and success.

[i] Northouse, P. (2019). Leadership: Theory and Practice (8th Edition). SAGE Publications, Inc.

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