One of the responsibilities of a CEO is to develop, mentor, and support key executives. Sometimes, that responsibility requires us to cross professional lines and enter into the realm of the personal.

As effective leaders, we appear to our teams as powerful problem solvers. It’s natural for them to look to us when a crisis hits. Inevitably your phone will ring, a knock on your door, or an email will appear in the inbox – and you’ll be faced with the challenge of a personal crisis.

Aging parents, terminally ill family members, or a marital collapse are just a few examples of the painful personal trials all people experience. Facing them with your team is one of the real realities of leadership.

How can we as CEOs best handle these situations? Here are my tips to most effectively support your key executives:

  • Listen. Understand that sometimes listening is enough to help an employee regain their footing in the workplace, and bring their work back under control. Let them share their questions, fears and frustrations. Carve out time and make yourself available.

  • Provide Suggestions, Not Answers. Most of the time, there is no right answer, and, in personal matters, individuals need to make decisions that work for them. Share options, if you can identify some, but leave the decision making alone. Challenge an employee to find the solution that is right for them.

  • Ask Questions. Rather than providing an answer, asking questions allows a team member find the solution. Help them see all sides of an issue, and consider all their options.

  • Share Your Connections. Assist your team members by introducing them to other professionals – doctors, lawyers, real estate agents or pharmacists – anyone you may know that can offer the support that extends beyond your capacity. Suggest reading material or any resources that you feel could be appropriate.

  • Be Careful. Qualify your suggestions as being in the realm of personal opinion. This is a strategy great leaders can apply in many situations. In demonstrating what we would do in a given situation, we caution others to take our considerations only for what they are worth (which might not be much!).

  • Know When To Stop. Don’t try to be all things to all people. We have certain skill sets and limitations. We can only do what we can do.

Life happens. Everyone benefits from a show of support during unexpected, difficult times. Practice leadership by preparing yourself for the moment when a team member calls on you for personal support. Start thinking about your resources, and experiences you could comfortably share with staff, today.