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Scott Eblin offers his take on lessons in the news and his advice on your pressing leadership questions.

What to Do When the S**t Hits the Fan

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Two acknowledgments to begin this post. First, this is a family friendly blog so when I say “the s**t hits the fan,” you know what I mean. Second, everyone has times when the s**t hits the fan.

If you’re a leader, s**t hitting the fan could look like a breakdown in your team. It could like not delivering for a customer on a key commitment. It could look like the challenge of keeping everyone focused and motivated under very challenging conditions. It could look like any of the above becoming public and snowballing into epic proportions before you even recognize that it has. The possibilities are endless, really, and because they are you’re guaranteed to have s**t hits the fan moments.

Like so many things in life, the key is how you respond when the fan is hit. While your mileage and circumstances may vary, here are three tried and true steps on what to do when the s**t hits the fan.

Put Your Own Mask On First:  There’s a reason flight attendants always give this instruction in the pre-flight briefing. You can’t help anyone else if you’re lightheaded and gasping for air. When the s**t hits the fan, stop and breathe. Literally. Your goal is to get out of fight or flight mode and into a way of being that allows you to think clearly. If you can do that, your team is going to pick up on your vibe and be more focused on solving the problem. On the other hand, if you show up frantic and crazy, so will they. As a leader, you control the weather. Put your own mask on first.

Unplug the Fan: One of the benefits of staying calm is you’re much more likely to identify the source of the ongoing problem. When you do, pull the plug out of the socket so the fan doesn’t make a bigger mess. The reality, of course, is that your fan probably has multiple plugs and there may be some that are beyond your reach. Focus first on the ones you can. Contain the mess. Limit the damage. Quit digging that hole.

Start Mopping: Once you’ve contained the splatter, start mopping. When the s**t hits the fan it’s usually all about what you do to recover. Acknowledge the problem to the people who care. Share what you know about what went wrong. Tell them what you’re going to make things better in the short run. Deliver on those. Tell them what you plan to do to make things better in the long run. Ask for their input. Keep them in the loop. Start mopping and keep it up until everything sparkles again.

There you go. Three things to do when the s**t hits the fan. What else is on your list?

Executive coach Scott Eblin’s goal is to help you succeed at the next level of leadership. Throughout the week, he’ll offer his take on the leadership lessons in the news and his advice on your most pressing leadership questions. A former government executive, Scott is a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and is the author of The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success.

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