Blankets were spread on the ground.
Some brought wine and cheese.
To make sure others knew their social class, many wore opera glasses.
Families and groups of friends gathered around picnic baskets to watch the “show.”
Voices were raised. Jokes were told.
Sandwiches were given out, so no one had to watch on an empty stomach.
And then…chaos ensued.
People began to scream.
Children were scooped up as the parents tried to find places to hide.
Bullets were flying.
In the panic, those attending the picnic began to see their friends fall to the ground.
Some injured from bullets, others were dead.
A US Congressman from the North came to the picnic and was captured.
This actually happened.
It all went down in Manassas, Virginia on July 21st, 1861.
Citizens, congressmen, senators, reporters and a photographer went to view, in person, a battle during the Civil War.
Grasp this…people went to a field to have a picnic and be entertained by the war.
You’re sitting there thinking, “How stupid were these people?”
There’s a battle happening across the world.
Bullets aren’t flying around, but a virus is.
You can’t escape the news.
Websites, social media news feeds, radio, and television are full of information about the Coronavirus.
The entire nation of Italy is on lockdown.
Norway has shut down.
China seems to be slowly recovering.
There’s a containment zone in New York.
Colleges and universities are going to online classes.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
As leaders, we need to be leading throughthis situation…not spreading a blanket, having sandwiches, and hoping all this will resolve itself.
As followers, there should be high expectations of your leaders.
In other words, don’t accept an invitation to the picnic.
There are some questions we need to address as citizens, leaders, and employees.
How do we, as leaders, lead through such an event?
What should we expect of our leaders?
First, leaders should face reality as it is, not as we want it to be.
Own the problem.
When you’re facing a crisis, people need to know the prognosis.
You must reflect accurately what is happening in the organization, society, and nation that you’re leading.
Addressing reality as it truly is allows your followers to place trust that you’re seeing the situation accurately, not wishfully.
Second, give hope to followers by painting a picture as to where we will eventually land.
Now that you’ve explained the crisis and owned the fact that there is a problem, then cast a vision for the future.
Tell them how we will weather the storm and what life will be like when we come out on the other side.
Followers need to see a better tomorrow.
You can’t just let them sit in the now.
A good example of this is Moses from the Bible’s Old Testament.
Israel was on the march for a new land.
They would face battle after battle.
To help them stay encouraged to face those tough days, the new land was described as one flowing with “milk and honey.”
Hope hinges on the fact that tomorrow holds more promise than the stresses of today.
Third, consistently communicate the plan to get through the storm and arrive safely at port.
You’ve faced reality as it is.
Everyone knows you have a grasp of the situation.
The picture of the future has been painted.
Your team is ready to go.
Now you must communicate how you’ll get there.
Don’t talk in generalities or riddles.
Walk them through the first four or five steps.
As each step is accomplished, report on that and then lay out what is next.
In times of uncertainty, you can bring calm by being clear.
Fourth, truth promotes trust.
The only way people will follow you through a crisis is to be truthful with them.
Truth builds trust.
Lies create chaos.
Don’t oversell the bank balance.
Be honest about supply chains.
The moment people get a whiff that you’re lying or shading the truth, that’s the moment they begin to doubt you have a handle on the crisis.
Trust is the currency you will spend as you lead through tough times.
Don’t spend it on cheap answers and the easy way out.
You’ll need that currency of trust as you make tough decisions down the road.
Finally, do what is right.
Sounds simple doesn’t it?
So many leaders fail at this.
You must do what is right even at the risk of being disliked, criticized, or even losing your position.
During a crisis, the stakes are higher than your personal status.
You’re responsible for a non-profit, a business or a nation.
Those are lives that are in your care.
They deserve a leader who does what is right.
The events swirling in the world could be your 1861.
What will you do?
Will you face them honestly with candor, a plan, and hope?
Or will you spread a blanket on the ground, serve sandwiches and pass out opera glasses so everyone can watch the battle?
It’s a time for leadership, not picnics.
Remember, leadership matters.
Brian Sanders is an author/speaker and Executive Vice President of Positive Alternative Radio. To contact him or for more information about his book, Leadership Endurance, visit briansandersauthor.com.