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This is a guest blog provided by Dr. Michael Colburn. The interview of Aleksandra Scepanovic as well as this blog challenge us to reflect on our leadership skills even in hard times and what we can learn to become a better leader. The interview on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future with Aleksandra Scepanovic aired on 10/22/19.

Ever have one of those days?  Crises abound and it feels like you are spending most of your time putting out fires?  Action is taken to solve the crisis at hand.  At best, the cost of the crisis is minimized.  However, your time is taken away from the high value activities that you want to work on.  A crisis is an unexpected event that has a cost assigned to it if it is not resolved.  There are crises that are truly unexpected, and we just have to deal with them.  But there are others where we need to ask the question: What are some things that I do that may create or magnify crises?  Here are five tips you may find helpful in preventing the fires from happening in the first place.

Tip 1:  Communicate openly and honestly even when it hurts.
It is not just the issue that makes something important.  It is often the lack of time to respond to the issue.  When a red or yellow flag goes up, it is time to communicate.  The earlier you communicate about a possible crisis, the more time you will have to create alternatives (eg., get help from a colleague, negotiate a time extension).  Your boss or client may not be thrilled, but they will be informed.  The problem is not compounded.  At worst the impact is minimized.  At best the problem may be prevented.  You communicated and accepted responsibility.

Tip 2: Anticipate potential problems and take preventive actions.
When planning for any project, get in the habit of questions like: What could go wrong? What can I do to prevent it from happening? What corrections can I take when a red flag goes up?  Ask colleagues who have had similar projects the sane questions.  Accelerate your learning from yours and others’ experiences.  Build in preventive actions to reduce the risk of crises.  Plan contingent actions to respond quickly to the unexpected.

Tip 3: Make realistic commitments.
Some golfers’ optimism gets them in a lot of trouble.  If I can manage to hit the ball under the limb, curve around the tree and go over the water, I can reach the green.  Some people, like this optimistic golfer make “best case” estimates to the client to make the sale, to impress the boss or to relent to pressure.  The seeds of crises have been sown.  When commitments are not met, excuses are made, and credibility is damaged.  You need to be both realistic and courageous.

Tip 4: Establish regular communications with the boss and clients.
Take the initiative to schedule regular one-on-one meetings with the boss to review progress, agree on priorities and discuss resource needs.  Openness and candor do not often thrive in group settings.  These accountability meetings keep small problems from growing into crises.  Your initiative eases the need for the boss to check up on your projects.  Have similar meetings with your critical internal clients and teammates. One proactive meeting eliminates many reactive ones. 

Tip 5: Continually improve your processes.
Poor processes create crises. We know this at the organizational level, and it is also true at the individual level.  This may include personal planning, project management and communication methods with the boss, teammates and clients.  Look at your key value creating activities and take a step back and describe as if you were going to teach them to someone.  Identify ways to reduce wasted effort an increase the time you spend on the highest value activities.  Be your own lean consultant.

Next Steps
Review the five tips and choose one that resonates with you.  Identify one thing you can do in the next 24 hours to apply this tip to your professional or personal life.  Success breeds success.  Each step you take will enable you to take control of the seemingly uncontrollable.  Let me know how it works at

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, Google Play, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify and iHeartRADIO. Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.


About the Author

Dr. Michael Colburn has built his career on performance improvement at the organization, team and individual levels for a broad range of clients in the private and public sectors for more than 30 years.  He recently retired as an Associate Professor of Management at Ashland University where he taught Organization Development, Operations Management, Strategic Management and Self-Management & Accountability.   Michael has authored numerous papers in academic, professional and trade publications.  His first book, Own Your Job: Five Tools for Self-management and Accountability in the Workplace will help you think more entrepreneurial and teach you self-management skills and increase your performance and influence. Check out more of Michael’s blogs on his website.

Photo by Pixabay.