How to Lead When it Matters Most

Book Review: You’re IT by Leonard Marcus …

You’re IT: Crisis, Change and How to Lead When it Matters Most

This book is chock full of good leadership, and so appropriate for these uncertain times.  The book grew out of crisis. What went well – and not so well – after national crises like 9/11, the Boston Marathon bombing, and Hurricane Katrina.

What to do in chaos.

What do you do when you confront chaos and most of what you know is obsolete?  How do you figure it all out on the fly?  Who is in charge? Who decides what? And what do we do right now?  That’s what this book is all about.  Although not about COVID-19 – it is a perfect fit for leading in our current time of crisis.

Crisis Leadership. 

Leading in uncertainty is different.  Position, chain of command, and. hierarchy go out the window.  Most leadership books are less than helpful.  The great majority of leadership books are written for those in formal positions of leadership.

Frame of Mind.

Stories illustrate the importance of seizing the opportunity, sorting through complexity and bringing people together around shared strategies.  What the authors found from studying best practice in chaos, they call meta-leadership.


Three skills, they say,  are needed to lead in chaos:

  • You – learning to learn.

    Moving quickly from panic to pivot.  Being calm in crisis.  Using emotional intelligence to assess the people and the problem. Being vulnerable enough to make less-than-perfect decisions, learn from them and keep moving.  “Learn to fail, or fail to learn,” the authors say.

  • Situation – grasping complexity.

    Learn to size up “sudden, adverse, and complex change.”  Ask questions. Look for trends. Predict and act.  Implement and communicate.  Repeat this “thinking-acting” cycle; getting better each time.

  • Stakeholders – building connections.

    Scan 360 degrees.  Lead up, down, across and beyond. Most of these relationships are outside of your formal control.  Lead by influence.  Talk 1 on 1. Build relationships. Find out what each party needs. Find common cause.  Create unity of effort.


You’re IT includes great stories, applications, and tools!

  • Acting quickly on limited information

  • Turning unknowns into knowns

  • Knowing when to act on intuition

  • Negotiating conflict

  • Seeing different perspectives

  • Influencing beyond your authority

  • Mapping complex situations 


Principles are well illustrated.  “Train your brain to think multi-dimensionally” is one example.  The Coca-Cola CEO saw sickened school children as a technical problem not a PR problem.  He spent days proving that their product was untainted.  By then he had lost the PR battle, shown disregard for children … and ultimately lost his job.  The CDC, conversely won the support of the public during the H1N1 crisis by seeing both the technical and the PR sides of the problem.

Leadership Development.

This is a great book for building capacity, for ourselves, and those we lead.  Certainly, in this season of navigating the COVID-19 threat, we face “sudden, adverse, and complex change.” But even our day-to-day work, the authors suggest, is becoming far less predictable and hierarchical overall.

This book will help you and your team learn much about how to lead when it matters most.

  • Reviewed by Larry Nyland
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Larry Nyland – Leadership Coach and Consultant.
Seattle Schools superintendent 2014-2018

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