Leadership in a Crisis: Defining Reality AND Giving Hope

Napoleon is credited with the leadership wisdom of: “The role of the leader is to define reality and give hope.”

This is especially true in a crisis – which is where leaders are most needed. The reality is that most organizations have gotten to a place of maturity that they can operate daily and even through extended periods of time without much leadership. Not that they should operate that way, as leaders should always be adding value. But in a crisis leaders are essential to their teams and the people those teams are designed to serve. In a crisis leaders must constantly define reality and give hope.

Defining reality in a crisis

There is a temptation for leaders, in moments of crisis, to jump to giving hope. But doing so fails to meet people in their pain. Christian leaders, in a time like this, can quickly move towards all the opportunities that a crisis presents – the opportunities to serve others and share the love of Christ. Yes! We must. But we also serve people and alongside people who are deeply impacted by the uncertainty and horror of this moment.

We need to define the reality of the moment, help them understand that their grief is appropriate, and grieve alongside them. We should grieve this moment we are in. It is incredibly challenging and sad for many people we serve and many people we serve alongside.

Giving hope in a crisis

Just as there are leaders who will jump too rapidly to “giving hope,” there are leaders who will loiter for too long “defining reality.” Yes, things are broken. Yes, there are painful decisions. Yes, we don’t want to be in the moment we are in. Yes, this sucks! But if that is all people hear, they won’t be served well. People long, even need, to hear that there is hope.

Leaders must give hope for the future, mobilize people in a direction, and believe deep in the core of who they are that there are great opportunities on the horizon. For Christian leaders, it is true that the Church has always thrived in these seasons. We serve people as Christ has served us. We steward a message of everlasting hope and peace. Who is better equipped to give hope than believers? We are the ones who grieve with hope.

What is the balance of defining reality and giving hope? Like most leadership disciplines, this is much more art than science. And in a global pandemic like this one, we should expect to continually toggle between the two. Meaning, that our grieving is not going to be over when we offer hope. And even during intense moments of defining reality, we don’t grieve as those without hope.