Crisis Leadership

In the second paper of our “Business Resilience in Times of Crisis” series, Russ Huxtable takes a deep dive into the topic of Crisis Leadership.

Introduction

In our previous article “Business Resilience in Times of Crisis” we highlighted leadership as a key factor and discussed the Cynefin Framework to understand how different types of problems should be engaged by the leadership team. Crisis Management fell very much into the Chaos quadrant where decisive action was required. Here you would then evaluate the outcome of immediate action and respond accordingly. Repeating this cycle until you establish some level of stability. Professor Dave Snowden described this in his model as Act – Sense – Respond

One of the problems we discovered here was that not all leaders are experienced or familiar with operating in this quadrant. As we established this does not make them bad leaders per se, just out of their depth in this type of situation. So in this article we will take a “deep dive” into leadership and look at what qualities and skills are required to lead an organisation through a crisis and look at what can be done to prepare leaders for this role.

Many organisations that provide crisis leadership training point out that no two organisations are exactly the same in terms of how a crisis will impact on them, but there is a lifecycle that all unexpected emergencies follow, which leads to three distinct stages of crisis management: React, Respond, and Recover. It should be noted how closely this aligned to the Chaos Quadrant in the Cynefin framework. PWC identifies that 7 out of 10 business leaders have faced a novel crisis in their career, the average number faced by each individual being 3. It would therefore appear that a crisis is almost inevitable, but failure doesn’t have to be. The only surprise here is how little effort, resources and training are putbut into this area – with major organisations only concentrating on business as usual until they are in the “eye of the storm”.

 

Leadership Style

Think of an example of an exceptional leader – it could be Gandhi, Mandela, or Churchill – and ask yourself what makes this person stand out as one of the greats. There may be traits that can be identified in all of them – charisma, charm, courage – but there are plenty of people with these traits who cannot lead. So what is the magic ingredient? It could be argued that great leadership sits at the crossroads of an innate ability that has honed the right skills, and combined them with emotional intelligence. It is the act of achieving success through the alignment of the why, the what and the how.

In individual terms, being a great leader means understanding yourself, and the wide range of tasks you’ll be responsible for. The University of Kent identifies the following, non-exhaustive list:

  • Persuading and motivating
  • Clarifying
  • Making decisions
  • Listening and supporting
  • Delegating
  • Being assertive
  • Learning from failure
  • Persevering
  • Accepting responsibility
  • Taking initiative
  • Planning and organising

Academics over the years have identified many leadership methods… 

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