Maurice Smith

6 steps for effective crisis leadership

Leadership qualities extend to everyone within an organization.

October 19, 2020

Just as crises come in all shapes and sizes, there is a leader within everyone.

“Leadership doesn’t just reside with the CEO,” says Maurice Smith president of Local Government Federal Credit Union and Civic Federal Credit Union, both in Raleigh, N.C. “We want to be more resilient than that. We want leadership at different levels so when a challenge arises, we have more people ready to meet that challenge.”

During the 2020 CUNA HR & Organizational Development Council Virtual Conference Collection, Smith outlined six steps leaders should take to be prepared to meet the next crisis head-on:

1. Tap into personal testimony. Pay attention to how others react to a crisis. You’ll see examples of people who successfully navigate a crisis along with those who react badly, and you’ll gain insights on how you can react productively and not create additional challenges, Smith says.

“You can’t ignore who you are as an individual and what you learned outside the walls of the credit union,” Smith says. “Tap into that testimony. It will be useful in a crisis.”

2. Embrace stakeholders and followers. For every person who works at the credit union, Smith says there are multiple people who have a stake in their lives and what kind of job they do. It’s a daunting feeling, but Smith says leaders must take the responsibility seriously.

“I have a responsibility to a wide community, not to mention the membership. They’re counting on me to do a good job, and that puts a burden on you as a leader,” Smith says. “There are a lot of voices to listen to as a leader. I don’t know how you become a good leader if you don’t listen to all of the stakeholders.”

3. Align your values. Align your personal values with the credit union’s core values. That alignment will allow others to know what to expect from your leadership and will provide insight into how you’ll respond to a crisis.

“If your values reflect the values of the credit union, that’s perfect synchronization,” he says.

4. Spot issues. The best time to prepare for a crisis is before one happens, Smith says. When problems occur, step back and try to identify what the symptoms of the problem are and what the root cause is.

“Taking a moment to spot the issues can help make you more successful in figuring out what to do to address the problem in the long term,” Smith says.

5. Say “yes.” All problems have a solution, and saying “yes” allows you to explore all scenarios, even if it’s a solution you haven’t yet explored.

“When you start with ‘yes’ you’ve opened up the whole span of possibilities of what can be done,” Smith says, “and you haven’t foreclosed on these options because you’ve said you’ll do something to make it work.”

6. Achieve ”corporate actualization.” Commit to ensuring staff are the best employees they can be and can achieve self-actualization, Smith says. This allows employees to believe the organization’s success depends on them.

“When you do, your credit union can plant a flag in the ground and say, ‘we’ve reached corporate actualization,’” Smith says. “Whatever is thrown your way, you’re prepared for the challenge. You’re the very best you can be. The best preparation is having employees who are ready to handle a crisis when it occurs.”

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