A whole bunch of years ago, I attended a Play Therapy conference that taught me more about leadership during a crisis (and parenting during a crisis) that anything else I had studied to that point. Really, I haven’t learned a more valuable lesson about leadership during a crisis since that day. During the conference, Dr. Gary Landreth, a founding figure within the Play Therapy community, said that any play therapist should convey four (4) messages:
- I’m here
- I’m hearing you
- I understand
- I care (Dr. Gary Landreth, NM Conference on Play Therapy, 3/4/2006)
Though Dr. Landreth was speaking about a therapist’s approach to a child in therapy, I believe that his comments are applicable to anyone who wants to engage people he or she leads. Dr. Landreth reinforced the point that caring would be obvious, if the therapist properly delivered the first three.
If anyone is in a state of crisis, receiving the message that someone cares can provide a safe place to vent emotion. Furthermore, if that someone fills a leadership role in the manner described above, a person in crisis can feel further assured that the threat to his or her own safety may be minimized a s a result of the leader becoming a resource that actually cares.
Though Dr. Landreth didn’t get into too much detail about how to deliver the first three messages, I believe and have come to practice aware engagement. Knowing myself in relation to both the context and those around me allows me to be present and empathic throughout the crises I encounter in both my work and in my personal life.
Therefore, the best suggestions I can make to a leader who might need to respond to either an individual or group in crisis are the following: Know what to do within the context so that you convey strength; Have a plan and be sure to have resources, or at least be able to find resources, for assistance in executing the plan; communicate openly and in communicating make sure that the people in crisis know that you care. It may sound simple, but sometimes the simplest solutions can become the most difficult to implement. As a matter of fact, any leader who is: competent; who understands the context in terms of available resources; and who communicates openly and earnestly not only pertinent information, but also that he or she cares about the group for whom the leader is responsible, should be a successful leader, both in times of crisis and in times of relative stability, just like Dr. Landreth taught me so many years ago.