… the balance of chaos and hope
There is no avoiding a crisis, chaos can come in all sizes and at any time. Everyday people are faced with unimaginable bad luck, disaster, breakdowns, unexplainable confusion, desperation and violence. The worst thing that can happen to any leader is to be bound between great crisis and the promising future of hope and greatness.
But all too often, a crisis and the chaos that befall leaders bring changes in everything and affect relationships at the long run. As the leader, what if crisis ended up on your doorstep? The number of people, plans and decisions affected by the crisis and the intensity of the crises growing month by month? Imagine having a budget to meet with limited or no resources, dealing with a pandemic situation like Covid-19 global health issue without a clear strategy and adequate technical information and knowledge to affect a positive change?
The sudden demise or removal of that technical leader in that strategic position posing a great threat to the organizations’ leadership and fortunes are crises situations any leader could be confronted with. These, present a pictorial situation to imagine how it feels like leading in crisis. Is there any light at the end of the tunnel?
The obvious response is yes, for in any moment of crisis, when things seem to be mostly falling apart, followers turn to its leaders for a sense of reassurance and guidance on how to tackle the situation. A crisis occurs when leaders experience a serious threat to the basic structures or the fundamental values and norms of a system, which under time pressure and highly uncertain circumstances necessitate making vital decisions.
Leaders in such circumstances need to make calculated decisions to improve the chances of survival, though Leadership in crises is expected to function better together with team to avoid duplication of efforts and minimize missed opportunities and promote persistence.
The essence of effective leadership in my previous article titled “leadership” emphasized the need for the leader to inspire intelligence, discipline, vision, passion and conscience. These elements exude energy and power within the leader to excite hope and optimism to drive the team, effect crisis management strategies and plans to calm down the deep sea current effects the organization may be confronted with.
I will in this article address how the energy capacities of the leader in crises dissipates and affects his ability to effectively deliver in the midst of adversity and the various attitudinal dimensions of character change and skills that ought to be deployed by the leader to harness support from the team to stay resilient and effective in dealing with the crisis. Let’s talk the balance of chaos and hope for leadership in crises.
Contemporary Leadership crisis:
In the world of contemporary leadership, we are told that crisis threatens us on all sides. At the most general levels are the global or international crisis as Covid-19 pandemic and the related impacts on the socio-political, economic and religious mainstay of various nations.
Crisis tendencies affect relations between the international market and economies of nation-states while a more fundamental economic, political and cultural crisis of nation-states could be spoken of as disastrous and unfortunate. Political tensions in government overthrow and the unstable financial and fiscal indiscipline of most global states are recipe for crises which demand effective leadership control and management to see light of day.
To mention crisis at the global front implies a situation where time is short and an effective decision has to be taken immediately to avert its ramification on other economic variables. At this level, the crisis perpetuates a sense of a lack of control throughout the fiber of the economy worsening situations of lives and properties.
It is at this, thus crisis management level that effective leadership has to be deployed to rapidly and effectively come out with effective management plans to curtail further shocks. Managing crisis situations requires the ability to lead the economy out of an unfavorable situation by initializing policies and structures and the discipline to execute a critical plan to salvage the situation.
In the narrow context, every organization on the other hand goes through some form of crisis on fairly regular basis. Anytime there is crisis, it possess a threat to the organization and serve as an element of surprise that often requires a short decision time to act. All groups whether they are small or large, powerful or weak equally meet crisis and it is at this moment of crisis that it behooves most importantly on leaders to uphold a vital aspect of their role, making a positive difference in people’s lives.
Doing this requires eagerness to acknowledge the personal and professional challenges that the team and the entire organization may be exposed to if critical decisions are not made leading to solution. However, what leaders need during a crisis is not a predefined response plan but behaviors and mindsets that will prevent them from overreacting to yesterday’s developments and help them to look ahead to the promising future.
Moreover, when leading through a crisis, most leaders are forced to think and behave in ways that feel unfamiliar. Whether it’s a technological, financial, natural or health crises at work or in the community, it demands that leaders take an emergency response plan and adapt to it as new approach of solving the problem. The obvious concern for leadership in times of crises is to reduce loss and keep things operating as normal as possible.
Especially, as organizational leaders faced the corona virus pandemic and its associated disruptions in the global economy, it became apparently clear of the desire for effective leadership to salvage great organizations from collapse of poor management, corrupt leadership, knowledge deficit and incompetency. That notwithstanding, let me now speak to leadership change in crisis moment.
The Metaphors of leadership crisis and change
Change is inevitable and accelerating in the changing environment today. Business environment is changing with technology, globalization and new strategies. For organizations to be successful and be competitive, adopting to these changes become a necessary factor. Change management involves proper planning and implementation needs to happen in a practical way. Changing can be the solution to managing crisis because it gives direction for what has to be done to overcome the crisis of the organization.
The Concept of Calm Water Metaphor
This approach in dealing with change crisis comes with calm waters. According to Dawson 2003, planned change is characterized with schedules, objectives and processes. Change can happen in an organization anytime, anywhere without clear start or end point as the change may be going on. Here, leaders do not wait until they hit crisis before they look for solutions but instead they take calculative steps to put up systems and processes to contain any probable shock or crisis that may erupt. Doing so may require building formidable plans for the future, teams with clear communication guides and rules to stay afloat.
The Concept of White Water Metaphor
Under this change consideration, it is noticed that organizations face change like a raft in an intense river and every time it has to handle white water rapids. Emergent change is the change that happens without organizations intentions and it may happen randomly. The changing uncertainties in the environment will be critical factor that leads to the emergent approach to change. Here, there are no predictable or stable occurrence and expectation of the crisis but it just happens, hence the leader has to act swiftly through calculated steps to manage the crisis.
The Leader’s Emotion Play in Crisis:
In Rudy Giuliani’s view, it is in times of crisis that good leaders emerge. The frequency of feeling irritated, impatient or anxious at work especially when work is demanding and in crisis provide some fundamental clue that, the leader or the individual is gradually losing his emotional energy capacity. Any time there is crisis, the leader’s emotions play a critical role in whether the claim to be able to manage the situation is feasible or not. In the very narrow sense and or in the organization settings, there is emotional crisis whenever the leader fails to appreciate and reward the team and others for greater accomplishments and efforts. When recognition for greater performance and efforts are not acknowledged neither is leadership keen and are excited about creativity and innovation from employees is a demonstration of lost leadership energy and focus for success.
This may eventually lead to leadership crisis where apathy, lack of support and collective drive may spell doom for the organizations future and successes. According to John Haggai, the leader demonstrates confidence that the challenge can be met, the needs resolved and the crisis overcome. It is however acknowledged that leadership action in crisis reflects the competency of an organization because the test of crisis demonstrates how well the institution’s leadership structure serves the organization’s goals and withstands crisis.
Meanwhile, the difficulty in focusing on one thing at a time and or the failure to manage multiple projects with a clear plan of focus, not easily distracted by the whirlwind effects clearly demonstrate that, leadership is on top of issues. Nonetheless, when leadership spends greater time reacting to immediate problems and demands rather than focusing on activities with longer-term value and high leverage for the organizations benefits suggests that crisis is looming.
To stay ahead of all crises as a leader is to engage the team for reflection, strategizing and creative thinking exercise at all times. As a leader, it is important to spend quality time with the team to address all significant gaps and differences that have the potential for curtailing the plans and objectives.
That being said, it is noteworthy to mention that leadership in crisis is an intensely and emotion draining circumstance therefore, leaders ought to be decisive and lead with compassion, establish the usual work routine, display optimism, prevent the crisis through disaster planning and provide a stable performance through a transformational guide.
What is crisis?
A crisis is a change either sudden or evolving that results in an urgent problem that must be addressed immediately. For a business, a crisis is anything with the potential to cause sudden and serious damage to its employees, reputation or bottom line (Harvard Business Essentials 2004). Organizations today are trying to do more with less, further increasing employees workloads and stress. Rapid changes and disruptions in work places often put both individuals and the leadership collectively into crisis which out to be managed. The call to crisis leadership is an invitation to balance the management of the chaos and the promising future of the organization.
In dealing with leadership in crisis, it is important to mention that, crisis in leadership is part of leading in today’s world. Therefore, the leader must build the skills capacity and strong resilient structures in order to guide the people and the organization during this period. Admittedly, different skills may be required by the leader to take the organization through the different stages of the organization’s growth and expectations. As such, the leader needs to ensure high performance and sustainable well-being both for himself, the people and the organization.
Indeed, dealing with difficult situations is an integral part of the job of any leader as such leaders must develop crisis management, business continuity planning or organizational resilience skills to stay effective and competent. The leader must be seen to build a resilient organization with teams who must rally together on common goals, are open and responsive to the challenges placed before them and work tirelessly through ambiguity and uncertainty with clear intentional efforts towards collective resilience and sustainability. The key imperative for leadership survival in crisis is to enforce the building of great systems and policies, strengthens and reinforces team resilience, signaling to each member of the organization the importance of incorporating practices that keep them engaged and motivated and capable of giving their all to what they do best and beyond.
Types of Crisis
Three elements are common to most definitions of crisis. That is a threat to the organization, the element of surprise and a short decision time. There’s a crisis continuum, beginning at Routine crisis, and escalating through surprise, failure and catastrophic. At each crisis level or stage engenders a different set of emotions, decision-making style, crisis response and ultimately leadership approach in dealing with it. What are the stages?
- Routine or Resilience stage
To begin with, at this level or stage of the crisis, the leader is optimistic and fully aware that the crisis will not last and that with much collaborative efforts, the team will succeed in dealing with it. The crisis moves to the resilient stage when it moves beyond the normal expectation which is often characterized by some level of skepticism which would need the collective efforts of all members of team to deal with the situation.
- Surprise and failure
At the surprise stage, it has moved from the normal to the situation where the crisis was not imagined. The normal tactical response by leadership at this level is that, the crisis looks complex but hold the belief that it’s within leadership capabilities. At this stage, leadership remain optimistically bias and adaptive whiles it pursues training and development to enhance the knowledge and skills capacities of the team to fully understand the crisis and the challenges currently being faced. At the level of failure, doubt and pessimism of success set in and leaders ought to engineer out of the box approaches and styles to avert the crisis else the situation becomes catastrophic and out of hands.
Effective Crisis leadership:
To effectively manage a crisis is to comprehensively have a clear leadership plan, showcasing the team and individuals are properly assigned roles and responsibilities within a coordinated and controlled efforts across all levels and units of the organization. It is equally important to upgrade frequently and support the training requirements and periodic drill sessions of employees to align with the organization’s change patterns and agenda.
All attempts in managing crisis situation underpins the rational for addressing what happens before, during and after a crisis. To that effect, leaders pursue the following as critical road maps to deal with the crisis decisively:
In crisis sense making, leaders determine, even in the face of ambiguity and complexity, the likely level and impact of the threat. They get a fast and clear grasp of the situation and quickly analyze what’s going on and what needs to be done to take charge.
In crisis moments, leaders make decisions amid conflicting information, values and risks. They evaluate options realizing the importance of time lost in such situations. They make the best decisions in a limited amount of time in the given set of constraints.
When leaders recognize that the crisis cannot be managed in a linear hierarchical fashion, they communicate succinctly and effectively about what needs to be done to resolve the crisis. They get into giving directions mode, often telling everyone what their role is, what the desired goal or accomplishment is, and the deadline in which the job needs to get done.
This refers to managing the crisis. Leaders at this critical juncture offer their stakeholders a coherent and credible account of what has happened. The normal channels of communication may not be operative or may be overloaded, requiring new channels and protocols that be must be quickly mastered. Under this circumstance, there may be the introduction or recommendations of new systems and policy guides to chart a new path of recovery for the organization
Terminating and Accounting
Terminating a crisis is only possible if the leader correctly handles accountability question. Leaders need to know when the crisis has ended, operationally and politically.
At this level, the leader recognizes that there are lessons to be learned from the crisis, that they don’t dwell on why things happened till the crisis is resolved, instead, they understand that there is little time to blame others for what has already happened and the immediate need of the hour is for action to resolve the problem.
Having learnt all the lessons from the moment of crisis and chaos, how should the leader navigate his or her way through the crisis and thereafter?
Leading through crises
During crises, leaders who have built a personal relationship and cultural foundation can focus on the immediacy of the moment. Klann, a great advocate of effective crisis leadership advises that, leaders in times of crises ought to remember the big picture and to concentrate on the greater vision for himself or herself, both personally and professionally. Leaders under critical crisis situation ought to think about where he or she will be and what will be doing a year from now. Effective communicating in crises also will strengthen the organization’s ability to thrive in our changing world. How? Be human and embrace the full range of emotions you and others are experiencing in that crisis as a leader and be transparent about how the current challenges are impacting you as a leader, the team and the whole organization. Much importantly as a leader, demonstrating vulnerability with yet the desire to cause a change can help generate trust between you and others especially in this crisis situation.
In summary, the upside is that, it is not too late to know our vulnerabilities as leaders. The critical decision is to plan for the worst while hoping for the best and make sure your people are ready to respond the right way fast. If we can connect those dots, make risk reductions and quick reactions to part of everyday life at our organization, we will set the stage for resilient leadership through effective crisis management process, systems and responses.
Discovery….Thinking solutions, shaping visions.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The writer is the CEO and Strategic Partner of AQUABEV Investment and Discovery Consulting Group. He is an Executive Director and the Lead Coach in Leadership Development and best Business Management practices for Discovery Leadership Masterclass..
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23rd September, 2021