“In a time of crisis, we all have the potential to morph up to a new level and do things we never thought possible.” – Stuart Wilde
The real quest in leadership does not occur when business is in smooth sailing. Rather, a true leadership test is when an unpredictable crisis and disaster occurs. The crisis generally arises on short notice and causes major disturbances in the workplace. That is when leaders should act quickly and save the people on board from drowning.
Oftentimes, leadership in a time of crisis would require different characteristics and styles to save the company from collapsing. Pat Rowe in Great Crisis Leaders wrote that the global crisis often showcases differences in leadership styles. Many questions would also arise as the crisis stay longer, such as is one style better than another? what are the common characteristics held by a good leader? which types seem to play better in which environment? and many more.
Before discovering the right characteristics or styles needed to manage a crisis, leaders must first understand their roles when a crisis hits. In bullet points, leaders should fulfil the following responsibility to their employees, clients, and customers.
A sudden transition to a crisis phase is difficult. However, leaders are required to stay calm while thinking critically. Staying calm and managing one’s positive mind are the most important characteristics leaders should have. Other characteristics as defined by Rowe are as follows:
Strong crisis leaders live on the front end of reality. They recognize events and their significance and do not shy away from the consequences of what they see. Intellectual integrity is a key component of their DNA. They think of what is best for the organisation, not their own personal gain.
They are able to see the big picture. They can see all of the moving parts and understand what is the cause and what is the effect. They get below the 30,000ft level and can dig deep into detail without being mired in it. They quickly develop a very detailed knowledge of the issues. This ability further enhances their capacity to view the problem realistically.
When they have identified the problems, they are willing to consider multiple approaches to see how they could be addressed. Initially, they engage others in brainstorming potential solutions without judgment although they might have a preferred solution in mind. They are confident enough to know and accept that their way may not be the best way.
Taking ownership of the solution means being decisive. When they feel they have listened to the best advice, good leaders are willing to make a decision. Strong leaders will use a combination of real-time data along with their “gut”; the wisdom built on years of leadership experience. When they make that decision they know they need to “sell” it to key stakeholders and work tirelessly to ensure organisational resistance does not block the effectiveness of the decision.
Strong leaders take ownership of the problem. They understand that a long-term solution requires the input and involvement of many stakeholders. They identify those individuals and work together towards a solution that most support and most can live with.
Unsuccessful leaders listen only to those who agree with them and often encourage one-dimensional thinking. Meanwhile, successful crisis leaders seek out individuals who have a different perspective on an issue. They include individuals with whom they may not agree and whose advice may be contrary to that of their closest advisers.
Crisis often brings a leader face-to-face with a set of situations they have not previously seen. There are questions to which they do not know the answers. Gathering contrarian viewpoints from individuals with whom they might not agree, but respect, likely means they may create solutions not previously tried, and outcomes of which may be unknown. If it is the best solution, however, the strong leader is prepared to take the calculated risk.
Every leader wants to make the right set of decisions. Solid leaders understand they will not always have all of the information they might like. They know that making an imperfect decision can often be better than making no decision at all. Even if the decision needs to be “fine-tuned” for implementation, they are comfortable making it.
Courageous leaders who take calculated risks will undoubtedly make mistakes at some point. Deep crisis requires continuous decision making. The volume of decisions required in a multi-faceted crisis can almost guarantee that not every decision will be 100% correct. Strong leaders are prepared to admit their mistakes.