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Crisis leadership – some lessons learned

Don Tyler for Progressive Cattle Published on 24 September 2020

You’ve led and managed your business through uncharted waters for the last several months. This is a good time to document the lessons you’ve learned during this unprecedented season in your business.

Capturing the teachable moments and core lessons, as well as the mistakes that were made, will provide vital guidance for future situations.

Your daily strategy

Perhaps your daily strategy went fairly well, or maybe there are some big gaps in how that could have gone much better. If your initial strategy could have gone better, consider that one of the strategies of the best leaders during the initial stages of a crisis is: They have a 90-day plan that keeps you and your team focused. Keep in mind, the 90-day plan is updated every few days, sometimes even daily during the crisis as new information emerges, and continually looks forward to the next 90 days.

A 90-day plan should include these elements:

  1. List your core goals. Focus on the three to five main goals you want to concentrate on during this time.

  2. Keep your goals simple, specific and stated in concise words, such as, “Keep the animals healthy and growing” or “Stay focused on the details” or “Keep doing what we’ve always done.”

  3. List the areas that must be protected at all cost.

  4. The 90-day plan is divided into sections that address the goals and strategies for the three time periods of the next 30 days, 30 to 60 days and 60 to 90 days.

  5. Include trigger points in each section that state, “If this happens, then we will do this …” For instance, if your cash reserves in the next 30 days fall below a certain level, have a plan for suspending purchases, reducing labor costs, delaying projects, etc.

  6. Maximize your strengths. When developing your 90-day plan, be certain it capitalizes on your company, staff and personal strengths.

  7. Your plan needs to include specific action steps that must be taken to meet each goal. State who is responsible for each action step.

  8. List the resources you will use for key decisions and strategic planning. Include the individuals you consider to be subject matter experts and your most trusted advisers, as well as organizations, industry representatives, vendors, staff, owners, etc.

  9. Communication strategy. Be sure to include your overall communication strategy in your plan, which would include the main contact for each of the goals and areas of the business, what will be shared with all staff, what will remain closely held information and how information will be disseminated.

During a crisis, be exceedingly human

As a leader, remember: Your people are watching you more closely now than at any time before. Be your best self and, in this moment, be the very best human you can be. If this is an area you struggled in, remember that no one is expecting you to have all the answers, so don’t sweat it. If we learned anything in this crisis, it’s that no one has all the answers. Your success will not result from having a perfect plan, so quit trying to make one. There isn’t one. The key to your success will be in your ability to adapt to all the rapidly changing inputs, disruptions and circumstances.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but the more transparent you are with your family and staff about what you know – and what you do not know – the more trust you will build with them. Remember that uncertainty causes and exacerbates anxiety, gossip and frustration. Your people will be calmed by your clear facts and bold truth.

Give your family and staff a key goal to rally around, such as, “Staying healthy is job one” or even something as simple as “Teamwork.”

Your people’s greatest needs

How did you do with meeting your people’s needs so far during this crisis? Remember there are three things the people around you need from their leader – clarity, information and transparency.
Here are some suggestions:


  1. Communicate any changes in their job, who they are responsible to or changes in scheduling.

  2. Have a clear plan if someone in your family, or an employee’s family, becomes ill.

  3. Give them some help on how to be an awesome team player in this situation.


1. Have a plan for and explain what you are doing to enhance their safety and protect their health.

2. Clearly and regularly show them that their well-being, and the well-being of their family, are high priorities.

3. Share elements of your 90-day plan as it develops, letting them know that it is updated on a regular basis.


  1. Tell them what you know and what you don’t know. Transparency during this time builds trust.

  2. If you know that an action will definitely need to be taken, even if it is in the future, let them know as soon in advance as possible.

  3. Share as much as possible to minimize fear and uncertainty.

Take care of yourself

What’s your personal condition now? Are you peaceful, relaxed and even-tempered, or are negative emotions robbing you of sleep, causing bad decisions and irritating those around you? Keep this in mind. Every airline is required to provide safety instructions before you take off. The last part of those instructions state that if there is a loss of cabin pressure and the oxygen masks drop down, “… put on your own mask first before helping your children or others …” Why do they say this? It’s simple. Your instincts in an emergency are to protect your family, but if you aren’t taking care of yourself, you are worthless to everyone else. In fact, if you don’t take care of yourself in this type of a crisis, you will eventually be a burden to others.

Final thoughts

Some are suggesting that business leaders should review and revise their vision and mission. Though it may be tempting, it is far too early for that and would probably be a waste of your time. If your vision is properly formulated with a long-term, broad focus, then it should stay intact and be a guide to your future, not a hindrance. Wait for accurate, proven data with a clearer understanding of the long-term impact on the industry and where you fit in that scenario. You may find you just need a minor adjustment, not a complete overhaul.  end mark

Don Tyler
  • Don Tyler

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