I'm no expert on leading in a crisis, but I do have some personal experience as a pastor and what I observe from the life of Jesus, the ideal servant leader.
First, a servant leader reminds everyone that no matter the changing circumstances, the mission remains the same. For my family and those I serve as Legacy Church, our mission to help people trust Jesus as the church, at home, and in the world does not change no matter what goes on elsewhere. This stance allows the leader to be what Edwin Friedman called the "non-anxious presence." Knowing and sticking to the mission is the rudder and course in the storms of life.
Good leaders call those they lead back to the reason for the group in the first place. Jesus continually reminded his closest followers that although the religious leaders had turned up the heat on his kingdom movement, he was still headed to Jerusalem to complete what he had come to do: be the Suffering Servant Messiah. (See Mark 10:32-34)
Second, a servant leader acknowledges the reality and owns what is his or her part of the crisis. Leadership is not promising Disney World when you are standing in Haiti. People know when a leader is painting a picture of reality or not. Those who follow want to know that the leader is aware enough to see what they see and that he or she has the character to admit his or her mistakes.
Jesus painted pictures of his future kingdom in a land overrun with dictators and an occupying army, but they were nothing like the Greek's Elysium Fields. They were painted in the real scenes of growing crops, kings in battle, daily business, and selfish endeavors. Jesus even admitted that he came not to bring "peace, but a sword." (Matthew 10:34) He saw the reality of the people's plight ("tired and carrying a heavy load") and let them know the path to freedom would not be an easy one. He was honest about their situation and his plans to help them.
Third, a servant leader steps into the crisis and works with others to find a solution. Leaders who refuse to stand in the mess, roll up his or her sleeves, and enter the chaos of the situation lose all credibility to lead. And, the leader who offers solutions from an ivory tower will never have the strength of the organization to weather the storm. "The wise listen to advice..." (Prov. 12:15)
Jesus stepped into the crisis of a fallen creation and sinful people and gave his life up as the ultimate solution to that crisis. Jesus is the ideal servant leader because he gave his life on the cross to defeat human enemy #1, death and eternal separation from their Creator.
Few leaders today stay long enough to give their lives so those they lead may have life. They'd rather take the golden parachute and float safely to the next opportunity.
Crisis defines a leader.
Crisis is the crucible of what a leader is made of, what his or her values are, and whether or not he or she should remain the leader after the crisis.
Performance in clear waters does not tell the crew what kind of pilot the captain is. Storms require skill and experience, not pleasure cruises in calm winds and seas.
We all need a servant leader like Jesus in the global crises we face these days.
Wonder if you are that kind of servant leader wherever you lead today?