Lead in the Water: 5 Strategies for Leading in the Midst of Crisis

Session notes from “Lead in the Water,” led by Brian T. Miller.

Brian started the presentation by having everyone stretch out a rubber band. Then a little bit more. Then a little bit more. “How does that make you feel?” he asked. “Nervous,” was the response.

Then he asked us to give the other end of the rubber band to a neighbor. “Stretch it out,” he said again. Then a little bit more. Then a little bit more.

This experience reminded us that when crisis is present, nothing else matters. Especially when we are not in control.

We can have the best laid plans, the best initiatives, programs, curricula, and handbooks in place, but when crisis occurs—be it personal or communal—only survival matters.

And if we don’t have a plan for how we will be in the midst of crisis, although we might survive, we might not be very happy with how we got there.

His five reminders for how to be in the midst of crisis are:

  1. Don’t take it personal, make it personal. “When we take it personal, the problem becomes about us—our egos, our reputation—which often results in the creation of more problems. When we make it personal, the problem is about the problem, allowing us to solve it effectively.”
  2. See the rock, not the size. “When we rob people the opportunity to ‘grieve losses, wounds, and disappointments,’ we forfeit opportunities to build relationships and strengthen trust.”—The Choice by Dr. Edith Eva Eger
  3. It’s either going to be a good time, or a good story. Good Time = Facebook posts and pictures we hang in the hallways and office. The stories we try and tell about our schools. Good Story = The stories we tell around the fire, at our funerals, and in our absence. They are the juicy stories. The gossip stories. They are the best and worst we have to offer stories. “The best opportunity to do the unexpected and create a fan is when something goes wrong.”—Fans First by Jesse Cole
  4. Make the intangible, tangible. “When we are stressed or in crisis, we reach for (and attack) what is available. And what is available is often what is known, what is accessible. So give them the tangible things you want them to reach for, and to hold on to.”
  5. Be a llama. Llamas are not intimidating creators. They don’t have sharp claws, dangerous fangs, or an intimidating roar. Yet, they are tasked with protecting defenseless herds of livestock from predators. Whatever weaknesses you might have or deficiencies, struggles, or shortcomings you might possess, don’t let them get in the way of embracing who you are, what you are, and the opportunity you have at hand: to love and care for the staff, students, and community around you.

Be a llama!

Notes by Brian T. Miller, principal of North Middle School in Great Falls, Montana.