What Must Leaders Do When Conditions Are Turbulent?

What is the greatest thing teams seek from their leaders in the midst of crisis?


When times are turbulent, leaders must get out in front and lead. In this video, author and speaker Dr. Tim Irwin discusses important needs that followers have when times are rough, and how the leader can lead well through them.

Before we were married, my wife, Anne, was moving from Wisconsin out west, so she and her roommate rented a U-Haul trailer and were pulling all their earthly possessions behind them in this big car. So they got up to the top of the Rocky Mountains where they went over the pass and it was Anne's turn to drive, so she started off down to the west going down this hill.

And she had gone a quarter of a mile or so and all of a sudden this trailer began to rock violently and Anne just completely lost control of the car. She couldn't turn the car, the trailer was bumping into the car, and it was starting to jerk the car back and forth across the road. Cars coming and going were pulling off out of their way just to avoid this terrible accident that was about to happen.

And all of this was happening in just a few split seconds and finally Anne was about to step on her brake and her roommate yelled at her, "Anne, Anne, don't step on the brake! Step on the gas!" She said it went against every instinct that she possibly had to step on the gas but she did and within a few seconds the trailer smoothed out.

Now what had happened in that situation? Well, they were going downhill and so gravity had caused the trailer to go faster than the car. There was the car and the trailer got out of their rightful relationship. The car was supposed to be leading the trailer.

It seems to me in the last decade or so it's been unusually turbulent whether it's world events or the economy or just kind of general unrest. There's just a lot of turbulence and I see this in organizations when I consult. I see this happening as there's been so much change and turbulence.

So what's the role the leader's supposed to play? Well, I think in turbulent times leaders must get out in front and they must lead. Followers want leaders to lead. And if the leader is hesitant or something happens, the followers start to almost get ahead. They start to push the leader and the results can be catastrophic.

Now what do followers really want from their leaders in these times of turbulence? Well, number one, I think they need direction. They need to know where they're going. There's a verse in some ancient literature that says, "If the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will prepare for battle?"

And so employees need clear direction. They also need a structured plan. They need to know what we're going to do. They need to know why we're doing it. How we're doing it. When. Where. They need those kinds of structured plans to have a sense of where they're going and what their role is.

And finally, they need an opportunity for an emotional connection. They want to trust their leaders and they want to be emotionally engaged. They want to know that the leader understands what's going on with them. If the trailer of your organization is bearing down on you right now, I want to encourage you to get out in front and lead.

Dr. Tim Irwin

Dr. Tim Irwin has consulted with a number of America’s most well-known and respected companies including SunTrust Banks, Chick-fil-A, Bank of America, Corning, Inc., IBM, The Coca Cola Company, Hoechst-Celanese, Gerber Products Compan...

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