One of my favorite movie lines occurs in 13th Warrior. Herger stands in a boat and tosses Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan a Viking sword in anticipation of a looming conflict.  Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan complained, “I cannot lift this.”  Smiling, Herger hopped out of the boat and replied, “Grow stronger.”

 

Herger knew a war was coming and he understood the gravity of the crisis. Yet he was level-headed and in good spirits. He knew those around him needed to be prepared. He communicated clearly to Fahdlan what he expected of him.  Herger could have tossed down the weapon and stayed in the boat, but he got down and led the way. 

 

In that brief clip, he showed many valuable traits of leadership. 

 

But the main point I want you to see is this: Though the battle was on the horizon, the leader was at his best. 

 

A crisis reveals a leader. It does not crush him. Any manager can handle a team when things are running smoothly. But it takes a true leader to face a battle with wisdom and boldness. 

 

And that is the upside down business idea: Real leaders are at their best in a crisis. 

 

During times of growth and high revenue, an unskilled team leader may be able to hide his low EQ, lack of management prowess and poor strategic insight, but when the fire comes, it will reveal all.

 

This truism is not a new revelation. 

 

Thousands of years ago, the wisest king said the same thing. “If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.” (Proverbs 24:10)

 

So what are the foundations a wise leader should have on the day of adversity? 

 

Let me give you four pillars to build on.

 

Courage of evaluation: Have the courage to assess the problem accurately. Then get a second opinion. Then get a third opinion.  “By wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory.” (Proverbs 23:6)  Bringing in wise mentors and coaches is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of seasoned leadership and tested insight. 

 

Courage of communication: Have the courage to speak frankly with your team. Do not hold back affirmation when they deserve it. And in a crisis, do not tell them all is well when it is not. “Whoever gives an honest answer, kisses the lips.” (Proverbs 23:26) A kiss on the lips is straight-forward. You know who is giving it and what is going on. Be honest with your team.  Shoot them straight.  

 

The counter to straight-forward communication is flattery. When someone flatters you, it sounds good but it isn’t direct. In a time of crisis, organizational flattery will kill your team. 

 

Courage of accountability: Have the courage to face your own failures of leadership that may have contributed, at least in part, to the crisis at hand. A team will gladly follow an imperfect leader. But they must trust that leader to have a fair assessment of blame. 

 

If the successes are always yours and the blame is always someone else’s, people will not trust you and will rightly be terrified to follow you. There is no motivation to excel for a leader who takes all the credit and shifts all the blame. 

 

If you show yourself partiality when it comes to assessing responsibility for failure, your team will abandon you at the first opportunity. “Partiality in judging is not good.” (Proverbs 24:23)

 

Courage of confidence: Have the courage to do the right thing without being constantly swayed by public opinion or cowardly doubt. Fear is contagious. Strategic and informed agility is good. But shifting strategies and organizational hierarchies with each new sunrise is a failure of leadership and is devastating to the morale of the very team you will need for victory. 

 

Trials will certainly come. If you are prepared, you can happily toss your team a sword and run right at the enemy.  

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