In August 2008, storm advisories had been anticipated for days as Tropical Storm Fay barreled its way across both sides of Florida’s only bi-coastal congressional district.
In the early morning of primary day, as 70mph winds and rains battered Fort Pierce on the Atlantic side of the district and a year’s worth of work was threatened to be washed away by an act of God – I was not calm. I was not cool or collected.
I was defiant. No storm, especially one with a lame ass name like “Fay” was going to deprive me winning this race.
Despite the sullen faces and frantic nervousness of a young campaign staff, I gathered everyone around.
“Guys! We are gonna lose Saint Lucie County anyway! Let’s hope this lasts until polls close cause its sunny in Punta Gorda and those old folks love us! Pump up the phone banks into Charlotte County. Everybody get on the phones! We’re going to make sure grandma votes for Tom Rooney!”
We ended up making 12,000 phone calls that day to voters in dry parts of the district. That evening, we won by less than a 1,000 votes.
Time will be short. The stakes will be high. Tempers will flare. What kind of strategist will you be in your organization’s hurricane? Finding the sunshine in the midst of a storm is a little bit of luck, but there are some natural and learned traits that can be a good barometer for people who are great strategists during a crisis.
For clarity – this blog is NOT about the strategies to implement during a crisis. This one is just about the qualities that make a great strategist during that inevitable crisis. Here are some tips on being the “go-to” during a meltdown:
1. Anticipate Crisis – Sooner or later shit will hit the fan. It’s life. The more able you are to identify potential disasters, the more able you will be to navigate future craziness with finesse. That’s not to say that what you anticipate will come to pass. But the exercise of practicing “If / then” scenarios builds up the mental muscle to develop good strategy and make good decisions when things do go south.
2. Practice Visionary Thinking – When crisis hits people tend to stop thinking. Individuals with vision keep the end goals in mind, ask the right questions and ultimately make the right choices. Vision thinking asks “What do we want to happen?” And “What are the steps to making that goal happen?” Sounds simple, but if you’re not thinking this way every day, you definitely won’t be thinking this way in a crisis.
3. Communicate With Clarity – It’s not good enough to be a good strategist in tough times. People have to understand the words coming out of your mouth the first time when the clock is ticking and consequences can be grim. Your effectiveness at interacting with groups and individuals in a wide variety of contexts and situations is a great indicator of your war-time chops. One great way to practice your communication under pressure is to try selling something. Sales is kinda like a crisis. It’s communication under pressure.
4. Be Decisive – The proven ability to rapidly make the right decisions in the face of difficult circumstances is essential. The slow die. Once you’ve identified the issues at hand, make a decision. Don’t wait. Don’t poll test it. Don’t shop the idea around. If it’s a REAL crisis, you need to act.
5. Learn to Delegate and Let Go – Stay out of the details. Your job as a strategist and a leader is to bring focus to your team and steer them in the direction of a desired outcome. If you’re the type of person who get’s bogged down with tasks, you’re also the person who gets eaten by the zombie in the opening sequence. You’re dead. The hero of this horror movie has a purpose beyond the machinations of how the goal is accomplished. If your eye is on the small stuff, you’re not anticipating the next turn of events.