As I write this blog post, thousands of our fellow Americans fled from one of the largest storms to make landfall in several years. They hastily packed up their most cherished possessions, boarded up their homes and businesses, and hit the road to an uncertain future.

Storms have a way of changing our priorities and reminding us of what is most important. The saying is true: you are either getting ready for a storm, in the middle of a storm, or recovering from a storm.

Turbulent times also call on leaders to demonstrate crucial leadership skills. Storms may be a part of life, but leaders are shaped – and judged – by storms.

Before you are tested in the next crisis, here a few things to think about:

Plan before the storm

  • As any sailor will tell you, always keep a watchful eye on the horizon. Storms can emerge suddenly and often with little warning. Develop a plan for stormy skies before the clouds appear.
  • Recognize the demands that a crisis will place on your leadership, and recognize your capabilities to deal with those demands. This is a time for realism; not vanity. Plan to utilize your energies where your strengths will be most effective, and plan to fill any gaps appropriately.
  • In a crisis, leaders need the support of others. Plan to get appropriate help quickly before you need it.
  • In a crisis, seek out the advice of others who have weathered storms in the past. There are valuable lessons to be learned from the experience of others.
  • Planning and preparedness will help to maintain calm and discipline in the face of an impending crisis. Planning helps avoid under-responding or over-responding to a crisis.

Lead during the storm

  • When a storm hits, things change. High winds and waves can make familiar landscapes unrecognizable. Be prepared to find new and creative ways to navigate through the crisis while staying committed to your priorities.
  • In a storm a small problem can quickly become a big problem. High winds can turn an everyday item that hasn’t been properly secured into a lethal projectile. Take care of small issues before they become large, distracting problems.
  • Focus on the present, while maintaining your vision of the future. Manage the situation in which you find yourself while keeping in mind that the storm will pass.
  • Everyone reacts differently to uncertainty and fear. Your people will be watching you for cues as to how they should be responding and what they should do next. Stay visible and approachable.

Recover after the storm

  • Let your people celebrate their success. Organizations don’t survive a crisis unless everyone pitches in. It’s essential to communicate to your staff that you recognize their key contributions in overcoming the challenge.
  • Assess the damage. Big storms leave lasting changes that must be worked through in order to get back on solid ground and rebuild.
  • Give everyone a breather. Crisis is draining and people need time to rest and recover before getting back to normal (or the new normal).
  • Review and correct the things that did not go well during the storm. Address any unacceptable behavior or practice. It is important to critique the past and the present as a way of anticipating the future.
  • Prepare the organization for the next crisis.

Storms bring opportunities

Storms tend to bring out the best and worst in people, and leaders are no exception. The best way to manage a storm is to plan to lead and lead to recover. A big storm always leaves destruction behind it, but it also clears the way for new beginnings.