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Business disruptions can also create opportunities for great leaders.

Tim Schaefer, Founder

April 15, 2020

4 Min Read

Anyone can lead when the business environment is status quo. When things are calm we have great market prices, great weather, ample employees to get the work done, and good health.

Sometimes things go completely off course, like the disruptions we all face during this pandemic. And that’s when your leadership is tested. Disruptions can create opportunities for those who lead well through a crisis.

Beyond our control

In life, work and health we often delude ourselves into thinking good outcomes (good crops, great marketing, good health) are within our control. But let’s be honest. Many life and business events are often beyond our control or even our influence. 

So what can be done? Should we go with the flow and get tossed around with every event and disruptions to our business and our lives?


A simple but incomplete response would be, always be prepared. Prepared for what? 

Sometimes the events are beyond anything we have seen before. We have no prior experience to fall back on. We need a strategy that is flexible and can be applied to whatever life throws at us. 

Keep reading below for a checklist you can use to lead your team through any crisis, event or disruption.

Disruptions and major events always have been part of business long before COVID-19 became part of our vocabulary. Think of a disease outbreak in a confinement barn, farm accident, chemical spill, or fire.

Each crisis follows a similar pattern. There is an event(s) that lead to a crisis. But there also is a response from ourselves and our teams. Taken together, the outcome is formed.

Let’s break this down into a simple equation.

Event + response = outcome

It’s easy to get mentally stuck on the event when it happens. We talk about the event that caused the crisis. We focus on the event itself. Maybe we even get emotionally wired about the event.

In turn, our team takes their cue from us and things begin to unravel.

Events happen. We don’t have any control over them. But our response is something we do have control over, and our response is what defines the outcome -- often much more than the actual event.

Let’s look at some ways you can manage through any crisis.

  1. Don’t freeze – Many, if not most, people freeze when faced with a surprising crisis. Ask any first responder, soldier, POW, or SWAT team member and they will tell you the same. When mentally overloaded with too much stimulus, most people freeze. We mentally or physically spin our wheels but don’t make any meaningful and forward progress. Your role as a leader should be to keep your team moving by providing them with actions they can take even if they are small. There is always something that will improve the situation and you need to provide direction on what can be done and who will do it. 

  2. Prioritize your actions – In a crisis there are many events that could be addressed, but not everything is important at the same time. Prioritize for your team what is most important right now and what can wait. This also means saying “no” to distractions that will pull your focus from the most important things you need to be doing as well as your team.

  3.  Separate facts from opinions or guesses – In watching the COVID-19 crisis unfold, initially we saw there were few facts and many guesses. It’s only after the crisis has passed that we obtain perfect knowledge. A leader needs to separate the information that is factual from opinions or guesses. We must also determine which facts we need to formulate a response to,  and which are not. 

  4. Control what is working – It’s easy to get mentally stuck in what is not working and ignore what is working. Use what is working while working through the crisis. For example, on one flight the alternator quit in my plane. I was so completely focused on the alternator that I almost forgot to put the gear down during the landing. A failed alternator is not life threatening, but landing without gear extended is. Control what is working.

  5. Be cheerful and optimistic – To paraphrase Zig Ziglar, “Attitude determines altitude.” It’s easy to get down and your attitude will affect those around you. Your positive attitude, humor and wit will also affect those around you. If you have read stories of POWs being tortured, the common trait is they kept their optimism and humor throughout the crisis. It not only helped them but it infected all those around them. Your team is no different and they will take cues from you. Keep your cool and keep smiling!

In times of crisis your leadership skills will be tested. It’s during those times it will be clear what you are made of and what your team is made of. Throughout history there have always been times of crisis and the future will also be filled with crisis. The events of today and tomorrow will almost always be beyond our full control.

While the event and resulting crisis is beyond our control, we choose our response, and our response will often determine our future success.

The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Farm Progress. 

Read more about:

Covid 19

About the Author(s)

Tim Schaefer

Founder, Encore Wealth Advisors

Tim Schaefer guides large, successful farm operations, helping them get and keep a competitive edge. His tools are peer groups via the Encore Executive Farmer Network, transition planning, business growth planning, and executive coaching. His print column, Transitions & Strategies, appears regularly in Farm Futures and online at He is a Certified Family Business Advisor, Certified Business Coach and Certified Financial Planner. Raised on a successful family farm, his first business venture was selling sweet corn door to door with an Oliver 70.

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