LEADERSHIP PRACTICES IN TIMES OF CRISIS
In the last chapters I discussed the topic of leadership in times of crisis. As a follow-up to that chapter, I want to provide solid practices for leading during such times in this installment.
Sometimes you have a minute to make a difference, sometimes you have a few seconds to make a difference. If you are lucky, you have an hour or maybe a day or two to make a difference. Time crunches in on you when a disaster like the terrorist attack on September 11th strikes. At that time, leadership emerges. Whether it is your greatest hour or your worst is up to you.
In every age, there comes a time when a leader must come forward to meet the needs of the hour. Therefore, there is no potential leader who does not have the opportunity to make a positive difference in society. Tragically, there are times when a leader does not rise to the hour.
The following are seven leadership practices seen in times of crisis:
1. Stand up and be seen. Justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done. The same goes for leadership. This is not the time to lock yourself away in strategy sessions. It is time to be visible.
2. Embrace brutal optimism. In the end, the best leaders combine two countervailing messages. Jim Collins, a management thinker and the author of Good to Great, sometimes describes this as the “Churchill paradox.” On the one hand was the Prime Minister’s grim promise of “blood, toil, tears, and sweat” in the near term. On the other was his upbeat certainty that England would prevail “however long and hard the road may be.”
3. Stick to the facts. Nothing is scarier than a leader who offers reassurances that fly in the face of the facts. Few did not believe Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill when he cheerfully predicted a quick economic recovery; nor did Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson inspire trust when he speculated that the first anthrax victim got the disease by drinking from a stream.
4. Tell a story in a statement. Abraham Lincoln’s story in 1861: “The Union stands for liberty, secession would destroy the Union, and therefore succession is a threat to liberty.”
Winston Churchill’s story in 1942: “This is not the end; it is not even the beginning of the end, though it is perhaps the end of the beginning.”
George W. Bush’s story in 2001: “They may not come to justice, but we will bring justice to them.”
5. The bottom line comes second. We should not have to tell you what comes first. “The most important thing is to have people know that they’re secure and cared about – that they’re not just cogs,” says Dee Soder, an advisor to top executives and the founder of the CEO Perspective Group in New York City.
6. Link the ordinary to the extraordinary. In the wake of events, employees are apt to ask themselves searching questions about their careers and priorities. With national security at stake, the thought goes, how important can my little job be? Probably not as important as the work of firefighters and Army Rangers, granted; However, creative leaders find ways to connect the humdrum of people’s jobs with the larger causes on their minds.
7. Do not overreach. You have done everything right, you have earned your leadership merit badge, and now your people are giving you a standing ovation. Next piece of advice: They are not really cheering for you. They are cheering for themselves – and for the group’s ability to unite and persevere under threat. Lose sight of that, and you violate the delicate compact between leaders and led.
I think as you reflect on these seven practices, it’ll help you to be a better leader to other people who are depending on you to walk slowly through the crowd and make a difference.