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How to Lead Through a Crisis of Confidence

We’re all familiar with the traditional business cycle — we have annual targets, quarterly plans, dedicated space for social responsibility, and myriad meetings to stay on track. But businesses also have cycles of change, creating events that can catch us off guard and leave us feeling vulnerable when we most need to be there to support our teams.

These events can cause a crisis of confidence throughout an organization, making leadership and transparency even more critical. We have drills for fires, for lockdowns, for tornados (I grew up in Oklahoma, where we practiced on the regular), and contingency plans for all kinds of disasters. Unfortunately, there are no drills for leading teams through a crisis of confidence — no sirens in the distance to warn us that it’s coming. That’s why leaders must be prepared to assess events quickly, process them internally, and prepare to set the tone for what’s ahead.

We all experience ups and downs, and our emotional intelligence helps prepare us, to an extent, for workplace events that can leave employees feeling doubtful or fearful. As leaders, we must read individuals quickly, react appropriately, and be an example for resilience in the days to come. On a personal level, this can be challenging, forcing us to go through the five stages of grief in almost as many minutes, knowing we will be the face of strength to our teams, who look to us when major workplace events rattle confidence.

Here are a few steps I recommend if you experience a major event or crisis of confidence with your team:

1. Assess the situation quickly in your own space. Allow yourself to experience your feelings about the event privately so you can process what’s going on and prepare to hit “reset.”

2. Do not ignore the event or pretend like nothing’s happened. Employees will know, and a lack of acknowledgement can stoke fear.

3. Address the event with your team as soon as you’ve processed it yourself, legitimizing their concerns and offering your support.

4. Show strength and resilience. This doesn’t mean acting like nothing has happened; give your team a few days to process the event and show them through your own actions that you can be resilient and start fresh again.

5. Remember those big relationships I wrote about before? Now is the time to call on those, and work with other trusted leaders in your organization to create a cohesive plan for addressing fear of change.

Crises in the workplace test us as leaders. We have to dig deep — it’s not about you, but how you’re going to support your team. We may not be able to prepare for everything, but we can stay grounded and ensure we act transparently, confront questions, and lead by example as we emerge from these events.

Women tend to have particularly strong skills in this area of leadership, and I’m looking forward to discussing insights and stories about my own experiences as a leader at this year’s NAPE summit panel: Connections & Conversations: Women In Energy this Thursday, February 6.

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