“It’s not about you.” That is some of the best leadership advice I have ever received (more on another tip in a future post). Fred White, the executive officer on my first Coast Guard cutter and the closest person I have to a mentor, said that to me a few years after he retired. It was part of a much larger conversation; he related that short statement to one of his command tours aboard Camp Lejeune, a major U.S. Marine Corp base. He reinforced the concept that good leaders need to focus on their team (or back then crew) and that leaders need to think about how serving their people advances a team’s goals.
You may be asking how this notion applies to crisis team leadership. The basic premise of employee safety is a crisis team’s primary focus. Having “it’s not about you” as a corporate core principle allows an organization to frame its response to any disruptive event, not just the current pandemic. Smart leaders, whether individuals or teams, understand that the single most essential resource is the people that make up an organization, company, or team.
There is another aspect tied to this premise that is vital to team leadership. A highly functional crisis team needs to operate without ego. The individuals need to not focus on themselves, but rather on the team. They need to foster an environment where all ideas are considered, but when it is time to decide, they decide (see previous post). Embracing “it’s not about you” allows crisis team leaders to focus on the disruptive event and not about who is presenting ideas or making the final decision. A crucial component of this ability is trust; developing that trust can take time, but some crises do not afford a company any time. A strong crisis team prepares for those incidents through discussions and exercises.