How to Deal with the 3 Stages of a Crisis

In our leadership seminars when we talk about crises, we find it important to talk about the 3 stages that all crises have. 

1. Before the Crisis

2. During the Crisis

3. After the Crisis

Let’s talk about each of those and think about a couple of thoughts… 

Before the Crisis— How do we prepare?

This is where your organization is right now, and I want you to think about the following: How am I building resilience every single day, so when something goes wrong, my organization is best prepared? Two things come to mind. 

First, am I empowering my employees, those who work for me, to have a sense that they can act, even in my absence? Have I made them feel confident, and trained them so they know what to do? So when something occurs, they begin to move very quickly, because time may be of the essence. 

Secondly, have we prepared Crisis Action Plans? Do we talk about that frequently throughout the organization and even exercise that as necessary?

During the Crisis—What do we do?

First, we live in a very transparent society, so if an organization has a crisis, frequently it may involve local or even national media exposure very, very quickly. As a leader I need to be confronted about that, think about that, prepare for that, and consciously think through when something goes wrong, what messages do I want to convey?

Simply saying to any media person that “I have no comment” really is now more and more inadequate because there are multiple sources, or they’ll talk to other people in the organization, or they’ll go to social media to find an answer to the question of what has happened.  So, prepare very clearly the message that you want to get out and use the opportunity to talk to that journalist, conduct that interview, to get yourmessage out. 

Realizing at all times that any meeting with the press is an opportunity to talk.  Not necessarily to answer their questions, but to get your message out. 

 Secondly, my physical presence as a leader is of essence, particularly during a crisis. Too often I believe that leaders today think that ‘I can stay in my office, because of my cell phone, my iPad, my computer, my fax machine, my telephone. Since I can run everything from right here, my physical presence is actually diminished.’ I would argue just the counter. In a crisis, the people in your organization need to physically see you. You need to think very carefully, ‘Where is the most important place for me to be right now?’ Not necessarily micromanaging and taking over for people in the organization who are doing well when things have gone bad, but showing that you care, showing your interest, and using your presence. 


After the CrisiS— What did we learn?

This is fundamental and it surprises me that very few organizations do this. When something goes wrong, after we get through it, we take that time to sit down and carefully think through ‘What have we learned from this?’ Involve everybody in the organization in that After Action Review process. 

‘What have we learned from this? How are we going to modify our organization? How are we going to modify our Crisis Action Plan?’

Roll that back in and now we’re back to the beginning of increasing our resilience for something that goes wrong next.

Finally, has this particular crisis been so catastrophic that we need to think about the fundamentals of our organization? Are our mission, vision, and values still appropriate? Or has this crisis really showed us that the culture and our environment has changed so dramatically that we need to step back for a minute and actually think through the fundamentals of what we’re all about. 


Don’t forget the old saying that I use very frequently, when you talk about crisis the Chinese word for crisis brings together two symbols-- danger and opportunity.  There is no doubt about it, for a community or an organization, crisis is a danger. The second symbol is opportunity. A leader should think about that because unfortunately, bad things will happen.

We want to hear from YOU! Which stage and series of actions did you find most helpful? Share your comments below.