John C. Maxwell: How to Be Confident in a Crisis

UPDATED: March 9, 2020
PUBLISHED: February 22, 2017
John C. Maxwell: How to Be Confident in a Crisis


“He who smiles in a crisis has found someone to blame.”


I laughed when I came across this quote because, like anything that humors us, this saying has an element of truth to it. Sometimes the only person thinking positively about a crisis is doing so because he has figured out why it’s not his own fault.

But there are many reasons to think positively in times of crisis. For one thing, within every problem we can find the seeds of opportunity. They might seem small, especially when compared with the enormity of the crisis. But opportunity exists nonetheless.

Furthermore I believe great leaders can handle any crisis with confidence and grace. We might not feel like smiling, but we move forward with the knowledge that a solution is available and attainable. The key to managing crises with confidence is to be thoroughly prepared in order to make informed decisions.

If you are a leader, you know a crisis is never far away. Use the following tips to face an upcoming crisis with the maximum amount of confidence.

Related: 4 Keys to Building Your Confidence

1. Prepare for every possibility.

Legendary Univeristy of California-Los Angeles basketball coach John Wooden said his favorite part of being a coach was the practices. When practice is perfected, the late coach said, the game becomes automatic. Conversely, when it’s game time and you slacked off in practice, it’s too late to prepare. If you wait to prepare until you’re confronted with a crisis, you’re too late.


If you wait to prepare until you’re confronted with a crisis, you’re too late.


Prepare by listing a variety of possible scenarios and determine your response to each one. Also spend time learning from experts in your industry. Ask them questions about their past crises. Chances are they have encountered the same challenges you are likely to face and can offer sound advice and strategies.

No one can prepare for every contingency, but you can prepare for the known possibilities. Think ahead, be prepared and practice your plan whenever possible. Then, when the crisis comes, your response will be automatic. The more familiar the scenario, the more confident your reaction will be.

2. Define reality.

Iconic management expert Peter Drucker once wrote, “A time of turbulence is a dangerous time, but its greatest danger is a temptation to deny reality.” Instead of denying reality during a crisis, an effective leader defines it. This means seeing the situation realistically.

When a crisis arrives, spend some time alone describing the problem. What is it? What caused it? How can you address it? Ask your team for their assessment. Break it down into measurable parts by separating the solvable from the unsolvable. This is very important. You have to acknowledge what’s in your control to fix and focus on that. Finally, establish a game plan for solving the solvable and commit to it. A defined, measurable plan allows you to proceed with confidence.

3. Communicate often.

This goes back to defining reality. You need to do this for those you lead as much as for yourself. In the face of a crisis, it’s tempting to put your head down and focus only on the problem. But that behavior won’t inspire confidence in others. Be open and describe the problem to your team. Getting things out in the open will clear the air and let them know you are with them. Communicate the game plan for solving it. As you continue to deal with the crisis, repeat this communication process.

My friend Andy Stanley, a great pastor in Georgia, says, “Vision leaks.” In other words, leaders can’t expect to share a vision—or a solution to a problem—just one time. Team members need to hear it often to truly embrace and trust it. Your consistent communication will build the team’s confidence in your leadership and in its own ability to overcome the crisis.

4. Learn to grow.

The California pastor Rick Warren says, “The moment you stop learning, you stop leading.” You’ve probably heard the saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results. Stop the vicious circle. Instead try to learn why your method didn’t work so you can do something different next time. Intentionally reflect on the experience because experience alone is not the best teacher, evaluated experience is. Dig deeply into the tough times for all they can teach you.

The difference between average people and achievers is their perception of and response to failure. The same could be said of crises. Once the crisis has passed, reflect on your leadership during that time. What did you learn, and where can you improve in leadership, communication, problem-solving and team-building? Debrief your team to discover where they think you can improve and what they learned from the experience.

Crises are stressful and stretch us in ways we don’t enjoy. But the reality is that difficult times and tough decisions come with the territory in leadership. But if you prepare beforehand and effectively problem-solve during, you’ll have the necessary tools to get through any crisis with confidence.

Related: 22 Things to Read This Month to Build Your Confidence


This article originally appeared in the March 2017 issue of SUCCESS magazine.

John C. Maxwell, an internationally respected leadership expert, speaker, and author who has sold more than 18 million books, has been named an inaugural SUCCESS Ambassador. Dr. Maxwell is the founder of EQUIP, a non-profit organization that has trained more than 5 million leaders in 126 countries worldwide. A New York Times, Wall Street Journal and BusinessWeek; best-selling author, Maxwell has written three books that have sold more than a million copies.