The Accidental Leader: How to Lead During a Crisis If You Haven’t Done It Before

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Times of crisis often reveal the true character of a person. An unprecedented event will trigger our internal flight or fight response. Some people may immediately exit a company, revealing their desire to choose flight first. Others will fight in and for their leadership roles, determined to keep going and not give up.

There is a third group of individuals that have emerged during COVID-19. They are accidental leaders. Maybe they were appointed to start leading a team right before this happened. Perhaps they were already showing signs of initiative, but didn’t have formal training yet. In any case, these are the leaders that stepped up to the plate. They didn’t have a playbook to follow or a clear understanding of what comes next. Instead, they seized the moment to help in any way possible. Suddenly, accidentally, these people became leaders—and proved they were the right fit in a situation that has no script.

How do you lead if you haven’t done it before? Whether your ability to lead was initiated during a pandemic or began in ‘normal’ times, accidental leaders may not realize they already possess key traits that position them for leadership.

Listen up.

The accidental leader excels at listening. These are the same individuals that take notes during meetings and phone calls. They listen to what each team member has to say in a manner that shows they are thoroughly present. A good listener is also willing to listen. These are the same individuals that have an open door/inbox policy and encourage feedback.

When we listen, we are able to determine what others need and respond to their needs. This is true of people from all walks of life, from customers to your coworkers. What do you hear when you stop to listen? What does your team hear? Is there an ability to identify trends and assemble feedback to address needs? Listening gives you the ability to take action and provide resources that aid to the benefit of one and all.

Work hard and be creative.

Who we are in crisis is who we are. It’s no surprise that so many individuals I have seen rise up to their full accidental leader status have gotten there through a combination of hard work and creativity.

Hard work sets the tone for others. If your team observes you rolling up your sleeves and working within the department to get the job done, they will be more inclined to work just as hard. We’re all in this together, and hard work helps weather the storm.

Equally as important is creativity. As I mentioned earlier, there is no playbook for a crisis. Creativity during this time requires all hands—and minds—on brainstorming deck. Let’s see which ideas are percolating that may be the company’s “Eureka!” moment. 

 Embrace taking calculated risks.

The faint of heart do not take risks. It’s fairly understandable, too. Taking a risk means making a leap of faith forward. That leap might not pay off at first, but give it a little bit of time. If you never try, how will you ever know what works versus what does not?

Accidental leaders have likely taken a risk at one point in their career that didn’t work out in that moment. Then, they tried again a few years later.

This old risk is later reframed as a calculated risk. A calculated risk is built around knowing what you know now. You understand that one method to finding a solution for a problem does not work. However, there are other methods that may be used instead and these methods are the ones to test for trial runs.

Is it possible that taking a calculated risk can work out and provide a small, if but satisfying, return on investment in business? The answer is, most likely, yes.

Deborah Sweeney

Deborah Sweeney

Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation is a leader in online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, providing start-up bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent, DBA, and trademark & copyright filing services. MyCorporation does all the work, making the business formation and maintenance quick and painless, so business owners can focus on what they do best. Follow her on Twitter @deborahsweeney and @mycorporation.