How To Lead Through Crisis – Lessons From A Nuclear Sub.

If it works on a nuclear submarine, it can work for you.

Well it’s been quite a few very long months of Sundays. In terms of how we not only manage but lead through such times I like everyone have been up and down and at times all over the place. I’m no expert of spiral dynamics theory but speaking to students the other day I was able to reflect from what I know that we operate as individuals and groups according to various patterns. These can be labelled and you can look into it yourself but very basically we go up from…

The lowest levels: where we’re all amygdala and do what we need to survive – (Ugh! Me caveman, me want all the loo rolls). Protect the tribe!  


The middle levels: where we organise and make rules and hierarchies to override the chaos and then innovate new possibilities for our own advantage 


The higher levels: where we look to notice and make meaningful connections through community, learn how to adapt to the new, and finally integrate wholistically into the next now.

This resonates with me – though at times I’ve been up and down that spiral so it’s more of a helter skelter than a smooth upward transition. New challenges every day push me right down to the bottom again with little time to wonder what it all really means….

To help me process, I have done a few things right though I know I get a lot wrong. 


One of the first things is to surround myself with smarter people who know what I don’t know, leaning into the new NewThing coaching groups for instance. I’ve personally asked various proven prayer warriors to ramp up intercession for me, and I also invited back a few of our previous Elders at Ivy, to come around us to support and help bear the load with us.  

I booked some time to pick the considerable brain of one, former chair of Ivy Elders. Andrew also happens to work in the nuclear sector. As we discussed how we can navigate the waters ahead of us, he helpfully he sketched out for me how nuclear operators plan and prepare for emergencies, which kind of put my issues with sorting out the website in perspective. 

On our Zoom meeting he drew out a grid like this

It shows that there are things we must do differently in a crisis, quickly, to enable us to have a future that we will be able to create something new for. Some things we just have to do now because, The ship won’t take much more of this Cap’n!

But we can’t stay like that. Some things will be jettisoned, others will be retained into the new future and become part of our ‘new normal.’ We just don’t know what they all are yet.


Good leaders will look at that pattern and breathe…. take a step back , looking at the big picture of what’s going on and where you are at. What could you do and what could be? Lose the ego and think who else can you engage to help who thinks like that really well? That’s STRATEGIC thinking.  (Gold Command)

They’ll empower and work with others on a the TACTICAL level so that somebody will take responsibility to make it happen. We don’t just make plans we take action as we work them through, checking the plan with the strategy (Silver)

Then on the frontline, OPERATIONAL level, people will be focused and enabled within the agreed parameters toward getting the right activity done, at the right time. (Bronze)

Which is most important? All of them.

It’s not rocket science.