Leading in Crisis: Calm Down, Slow Down, and Think

In crisis: Calm down, slow down, think. @DanielTStephens

In the Mel Gibson movie, the Patriot, Mel Gibson has a line when he is leading one of his sons to ambush a company of Redcoats. He tells him “slow is smooth, smooth is fast.”

In crisis: Calm down, slow down, think. @DanielTStephens

I heard that line again in boot camp when I was learning how to shoot the Marine Corps way, the instructor had his own version: “slow is smooth, smooth is fast; calm down, slow down, shoot.”

My daughter is learning how to dress herself. She often gets frustrated and fussy when she gets stuck halfway through putting on or removing a garment. Recently I started telling her, “calm down, slow down, try again.”

Whether we’re revolting against Redcoats or just trying to put our shoes on, we will all face crises of varying degrees. When leading through crisis, we’re not only responsible for ourselves, we’re responsible for others. Which makes it all the more important to handle it correctly.

Calm down

Decisions made under emotionally intense conditions are usually bad decisions.  Sit down, take a few slow, deep breaths.

If you have time, consider a progressive muscle relaxation exercise. If you’re a person of faith, make this a time of prayer, ask for guidance and wisdom, consider reading Psalm 23 slowly and out loud. Continue breathing deeply and slowly. Read one line, then restart and read two lines. Visualize yourself in the scenery described in the Psalm.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord

Psalm 23 (ESV)

Slow down

Rushed decisions are nearly as bad as overly emotional decisions. Give yourself time to process what the problem is and how to respond to it. An hour, a day if possible. The saying “easier said than done” applies here. There isn’t much to say here but do your best to slow down. Create time and space to calm down and think.

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Don’t make the mistake of saying “I can’t find time.” You need to make time. If handling a crisis is really a priority, you will make the time to calmly think it through. If you can’t find the time, perhaps you should question whether it is a real crisis.


It’s incredibly helpful to write things down and organize them in some way. My three favorite tools for this step are (from simple to complex) the pro/con list, the Eisenhower Box, and the Prioritization Grid.

Pro/Con list, making choices, making decisions. @DanielTStephens

The Pro/Con list is best used when you have to decide between only two options. If you have more than two options, then use either the Eisenhower Box or the Prioritization Grid.

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Eisenhower Box. Decision Grid, Prioritization Grid. Making Choices. Making Decisions. Setting Priorities. @DanielTStephens

The Eisenhower Box is best used as a time management tool to help prioritize tasks. To get the best use out of the Eisenhower Box, follow these steps:

  1. Make a list of tasks that need to be done to respond to the situation
  2. Decide which tasks are important (or mandatory) or not important (or preferable)
  3. Decide which tasks are urgent (must be done soon) or not urgent (need done, but have no deadline)
  4. Do the important and urgent tasks
  5. Schedule time for the important but non-urgent tasks
  6. Delegate or automate the preferable and urgent tasks
  7. Delete the rest

Decision grid, prioritization grid, making choices. @DanielTStephens

The Prioritization Grid is best used when choosing from three or more options, or when three or more criteria must be considered in making the choice. To get the most out of the Prioritization Grid, follow these steps:

  1. Make a list of choices or criteria
  2. Arrange your choices or criteria on a square table
  3. Block out the diagonal line (where each choice would be compared to itself)
  4. Compare each pair of choices and put a 1 when the preferred choice is on the left, and a 0 when the preferred choice is on the top
  5. Add up each row, from left to right (not from top to bottom)
  6. In the Total column, the choice with the highest total is the one to implement
  7. If you want, you can redo the Prioritization Grid, or use one of the other tools for tie breakers
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Regardless of which tool you use to solve the problem, do your best to look for the good in the situation.

… whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. – Philippians 4:8 (ESV)

If you are a person of faith, be sure to finish your time of thought with prayer. Ask for help to follow through with the decisions you’ve made, even if they are hard. Regardless of whether or not you are a person of faith, be sure to find a safe, trusted person to hold you accountable and help you follow through.


Mark 12:31 – Love your neighbor as yourself. Real crises all come with human or relational costs attached to them. Do your best to ensure you make loving choices, not choices out of self preservation.


  1. Think of a time when you have been lead through a crisis, what gave you confidence in the leader?
  2. What can you learn from that leader?
  3. How would these tools have helped you in a past crisis?

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By Dan

Founder, Executive Director, Mental Health Counselor at Restored Life Counseling