USA Gymnastics in a year into the Larry Nassar Crisis. I have heard a lot of complaints (again) recently in their ability to fill the position of CEO/President and move on from this crisis. I am NOT a USAG defender. I have called them out when they have not met my expectations. I do believe that we are in good hands. The people that are currently in charge are doing a good job keeping things moving in the right direction. I do NOT want the organization to rush into a decision to fill the position. A crucial member of the search committee was busy training her athlete for P & G Championships and the World Championships. Her focus in where it needed to be.
I am becoming impatient with the slowness of filling this position but I understand why. Hopefully the position will be filled soon. The next CEO certainly will have their hands full. The recent allegations by McKayla Maroney and the revelation by Tatyana Gutsu have opened up wounds that may have just started to heal.
Leading an organization like USA Gymnastics can sometimes feel like navigating a ship through mine-infested waters. Disaster is likely to strike at some point, no matter how sure the hand at the helm. We are never going to be able to stop every predator but we still do everything we can to protect the participants in our sports. We try to keep bullying out of the gym and protect USAG from Data breaches at the National office. Still crises are everywhere, and countless institutions have been sunk by an unseen bombshell. But in many cases, it isn’t the crisis itself that causes an organization to flounder; too often it’s a leader’s response to the crisis that causes the greatest damage.
A disaster is a moment of truth for an organization. It’s a time when competent leaders prove their mettle and when pretenders reveal their impotence. The crisis we just faced (and are still embroiled in) is an indication that something needed to change within our organization. We started with changes that are structural. Policies have to be revised, protections put in place. We are currently looking for a change that comes in the form of new leadership. The person at the helm needs to be able to make good decisions during these turbulent times and see us into the future. Replacing an ineffective leader is a common (though not always ideal) response to things going awry.
Our new leader will need to be proactive and take the necessary steps to navigate crises and make solid decisions that will help us move in a new direction.
Your gym is also going to face a crisis. Consider taking the following steps when you face turbulent times:
Step 1: Be honest with yourself.
In order to right the ship, an effective leader must start by confronting hard truths. A leader can’t justifiably be blamed for some other unforeseeable, unavoidable stroke of bad luck, but oftentimes crises are caused from within and aggravated by the organization itself. Faulty security procedures might be to blame. Poorly trained coaches/ teachers could also be the culprit.
If a crisis is triggered by a structural failure, a good leader will analyze the flaw to determine how it contributed to the crisis. When an injury happens in the gym that requires a hospital trip we evaluate the entire situation to see what can we do to avoid that incident in the future. If it is poor judgment by a coach/ teacher, an honest coach would self-evaluate and own the mistake. To err is human; to take responsibility is divine. Being honest helps you get the root of problems and capably address them.
Step 2: Act carefully but quickly.
In diagnosing the problem, a capable leader must work with a dedicated team to craft a strategic plan. All options must be brought to the table and weighed, no matter how difficult or undesirable they might seem. Once a decision has been made and a plan has been developed and vetted, it must be put it into action as quickly as possible. Time is usually of the essence in such scenarios, so there can be no feet dragging. When crises demand same-day responses, delays can be perceived as incompetence or even indifference, both of which can exacerbate a crisis. When more time is available to consider possible solutions, take it. However, remember that careful and quick must go hand-in-hand at this juncture.
Step 3: Stay focused.
Be aware that once the action plan is set into motion, there will likely be further challenges and setbacks that surface. Even if your response to a crisis is otherwise impeccable, some critics and competitors might take this opportunity to kick the organization while it’s down. Previous mistakes might be brought to the forefront, and old controversies might have to be re-litigated. It’s natural for a leader to feel doubt and fear as the problems pile up.
If you start to lose focus on the big picture, it might be necessary to take step back from the situation and reassess it, or even seek outside advice. But it’s important not to despair. If your plan is sound and the organization’s intentions are good, then push through the discomfort and uncertainty. And, above all, remind yourself that smooth seas don’t make good sailors.
While it’s not always possible for an organization to completely recover from a crisis, or emerge wholly unscathed, even when headed by a brilliant leader, it is possible to take lessons from every disaster. Failure today could mean success tomorrow. Hold on to that truth to find peace of mind when the storm is raging.
Adapted from: 3 Steps Effective Leaders Take When Dealing With Crisis