What's the first thing you should do when a crisis strikes your business? Respond quickly? Rally your troops? Look to you own mental and physical health?

Nope, none of those things, according to a thoughtful recent post from top VC Brad Feld. While all of the above might eventually be part of your crisis counter-measures, the first, best response to nearly any crisis is simple but counterintuitive -- just pause and breathe.

Feld kicks off the post by establishing his crisis credentials, assuring the reader that he's no stranger to panic-inducing business situations. "I've only occasionally been in the CEO (or equivalent) role during a crisis. Most of the time I'm a board member or investor. As a result, I've participated in dealing with the crisis, but I've also been able to observe the behavior of the leader during the crisis," he explains.

Instant action vs. long-term learning

What has he learned from having a front row seat to so many crises? In short, that many leaders' reactions to these sorts of high-pressure situations is often less than optimal. "A typical leader has a natural tendency is to be defensive in the face of a crisis. The first reaction is to blame someone--or something--else," Fled claims.

That's understandable but problematic. "As soon as the blame is out there, the attack begins, which often causes others to be defensive, generating a vicious cycle of anger, hostility, frustration, and obfuscation at the beginning of the crisis," he asserts.

The best leaders, however, take a very different approach. When adrenaline and fear are pushing them to do something, anything, to get on top of the crisis, they resist. They don't rush in.

Of course, if your server has crashed because someone tripped over a cable, or the crisis is equally immediate and tangible, instant action is needed. But if, as is usually the case, the crisis is "simply the beginning of a broader issue especially one where the root cause isn't known yet, the worst thing a leader can do is act immediately," Feld insists. (And even tripping over a cable should probably tell you something bigger about underlying issues with your tech set-up.)

"As CEO, you feel an immense need to address whatever is causing the crisis and resolve it," Feld concludes. "But that's only half of it. If all you do is focus on solving the crisis, you are missing the big opportunity, which is to learn from it and integrate it into the fabric of your company."

Published on: Jul 1, 2016
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