Crisis situations, whether they are the result of natural or man-made disasters, are the ultimate leadership test. In the first two decades of this century public and private sector leaders have had to deal with the 9/11 terrorist strikes, the 2008-2009 financial recession, devastating hurricanes, and business-crippling cyber attacks. Now the novel coronavirus pandemic presents unparalleled challenges of intervention, coordination and collaboration both within and across countries globally.
As Jawaharlal Nehru noted, “Every little thing counts in a crisis.”
Here are six field-tested pointers for leading effectively in tough, turbulent times.
TOP-LEVEL CRISIS LEADERSHIP TACTICS
1. Remember that perception is reality. Appearances – or “optics” – typically have more power to influence than underlying motives or rationales. This point should always be taken into consideration before a decision is made or an action taken. Congruence between word and deed is also important for leaders to maintain public trust and compliance in fraught times.
2. Be visible, accessible and prepared. In tough or uncertain times people want leadership, not press releases or spokespersons. Be visible and disclose relevant facts and contingencies. Clear succession plans should be in place in case a leader needs to step away for health or other reasons.
3. Communicate clearly and simply. When people are stressed, they often have difficulty processing and remembering information accurately. Leaders therefore need to repeat key messages and instructions in plain English to get their points across. Painful news such as setbacks or loss mitigation actions must not be avoided but instead delivered without flinching.
4. Focus on people. Empathy and compassion are powerful ways to influence and motivate people who are fearful and anxious. Acknowledge the difficulties and losses people are experiencing. Remind them often that their welfare is of prime importance and solutions are being generated and implemented.
5. Seek expert advice. Emergency and contingency plans require technical experts both in their development and execution. Health, safety, information technology, transportation and environmental specialists need to be consulted on an ongoing basis, as appropriate to the situation. Leaders need to be flexible and ready to alter course as the situation warrants.
6. Take the heat, not just the credit. Leaders who blame others, stonewall, or claim ignorance of emergent issues and developments lose credibility fast. Effective leaders are accountable and accept responsibility for what happens on their watch.
When a crisis strikes, intense public scrutiny and 24/7 media coverage mean that leaders’ actions are high-visibility as well as high-stakes. On a personal performance level, successful crisis leadership requires situational adaptability, strong communication skills, and the ability to shift rapidly between directive and consultative modes of planning and implementation. These six tactics provide top-level guidance on how to lead effectively from initial emergency to resolution.
Copyright ©2020, Susan Battley. All rights reserved.