Over the course of my life (both personally and professionally), I’ve worked with many leaders of differing personalities, characters and behaviors. I’ve learned as much (or more) about what not to do as I have about what to do, especially in times of crisis.
There are those, who’re reactive in times of crisis, and there are those, who’re proactive. If you research the definition of proactive, you’ll find the following:
An act that one consciously wills and that may be characterized by physical or mental activity: as in a crisis that demands action instead of debate; as in action motivated by habitual or usual acts; as in responsible action.
If you were to study the substance of a leader you consider as good or better in crisis than most, I’m confident you’d find someone with a backstory that would support the kind of leader they appear to be. The data actually supports such a perspective, meaning there’s a link between the behaviors of a leader in crisis that are much different than the norm.
Speaking for myself, I’ve been in a position of responsibility (it seems) for my entire life. The only and oldest boy in a family of 6; raised in a leadership position in the church from my early teens; being a multi-sport athlete gravitating towards a team leadership role; working for the largest company on the planet in a Senior Leadership position for just under 30 years; wears me out thinking and writing about it now.
In short, I think I can speak with some credibility on the 5 most common problems I’ve seen with those, who’ve struggled leading in crisis.
- A lack of self-awareness: There are many leaders on a daily basis, who do not see themselves as others see them. This is most evident in an organizational culture that doesn’t value consistent communication coupled with healthy disagreement or confrontation. When subordinates can’t speak what they think and feel, they’re usually working for an autocratic leader, who doesn’t require, value or acknowledge diversity of thought. This type of leadership never does well in a crisis.
- A lack of situational awareness: There are many leaders, who react to crisis by doing their best to avoid it. This kind of behavior motivates a less than desired and timely response. It also creates a culture of under-estimating not only the seriousness of a crisis, but an element of doubt among subordinates that makes their reaction to a crisis unpredictable- the very last thing that a leader in crisis doesn’t need.
- A lack of consistent communication: It’s amazing how many leaders I’ve seen over the years respond to a crisis by defaulting to protocols. This kind of response is characteristic of leaders, who have a difficult time communicating consistently via any medium and especially in crisis. If someone struggles to articulate themselves verbally, then it’s almost a certainty they can’t do so in written or any other form of communication. Defaulting to a protocol and just repeating it over and over doesn’t give anyone a necessary degree of confidence and stability.
- A lack of accurate data to inform decision-making: I’ve mentioned often that I’m a data freak. One of my top 5 strengths (as highlighted by Strengthsfinder 2.0), is Input, meaning that I have to have enough data to inform my decision-making. It’s surprising how many leaders will take the word of those closest to them or within their own circle of authority (especially in crisis), without doing their own research or fact-checking. In short, you have to do the homework.
- A lack of strategic or adaptive planning expertise: I was taught a long time ago good times and profits (especially over an extended period of time, can mask a lot of deficiencies and dysfunctions. One of the first to gather dust is the planning process. I work with a lot of organizations and their lack of planning is one of the top 3 deficiencies I encounter over and over.
We’re in a crisis now! I still remember how surreal things were for a long period of time after 9/11. I thought that might be the significant crisis of my lifetime. Now, here we are with COVID-19. It’s rippling the globe and affecting all of us in ways we’d probably never imagined.
Rather than spend time criticizing the leaders of our government (which most of the media is doing on a daily basis), I’m spending my time in the space I have influence over, looking for any gaps in leadership that I can fill. Whether it be my community, my client base, my family, my church; whatever it may be.
I’ll look by being aware of both myself and the situation, communicating consistently with all of my platforms, doing my homework and providing accurate data and information, and planning how to adapt and respond in real time.
Truth be told, that’s how we can all lead in crisis!