Common Errors Leaders Make during Crises

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Crisis Management > Best Practices > Common Errors Leaders Make during Crises

Common Errors Leaders Make during Crises
Anneke Zwart, Student (University), Netherlands, Moderator
Hirsch (2014) did research on crisis management and examined the most common errors top managers make in times of crisis. He found an interesting pattern of problematic behaviors among senior leaders in crises:
1. Passivity: In the early stages of crises, leaders are very inactive. They hope and believe that the crisis will pass without serious consequences for their organization. Leaders should have a more open and objective view and be aware of the possible negative consequences of the crisis. Besides, they should actively respond to those consequences rather than just hoping that the crisis will fade away.
2. Narrow Vision: This refers to the inability of leaders to look beyond the existing dangers and risks to their organization. It results from omitting to put themselves in the role of the victims/outsiders that are involved in the crisis. A more open view is needed so as to understand and effectively react to their followers’ and other victims.
3. False Hope: Leaders often keep believing that the most positive outcomes will prevail, even if evidence shows the opposite. Rather than dealing with worst-case scenarios, these leaders keep changing the possible ramifications that will occur. Although it is understandable why leaders rather do not deal with worst-case scenarios, leaders need to plan for them.
4. Announcing the End of the Crisis: Leaders often have a strong desire to announce that the crisis has ended, so as to reassure their employees. This will only work out positively if the end of the crisis indeed occured. If not, the credibility of leaders is damaged. A more effective approach is to constantly announce and adapt to changing information so that credibility will be maintained.
5. Searching for a Scapegoat: A common reaction of leaders in crisis time is searching for a victim in order to protect themselves. However, blaming others only leads to a passive attitude towards the possible consequences of the crisis. Leaders should not focus on blaming others, but rather on searching for effective ways to master the crisis.
Source: Hirsch, P.B. (2014) “Taming the Amygdale: New Tools for Crisis Management” Journal of Business Strategy Vol.35 No. 1 pp. 52-55
 

 
Common Errors Leaders Make During Crises
Adrian Horodniceanu, CEO, Israel, Member
The above errors can have objective reasons (at least the first 3 or 4).
1. At the top there is a lot of noise. You never know what will become a real crisis and what is just background noise. People usually use their experience, concentrate on main targets and try to ignore background noise.
2. It is easier to deal with the known than to unknown.
3. We do this all the time also in personal life. Leaders are human too:)
4. It is an ego question. They really believe that their word makes miracles, even outside their organization. Most of us suffer of it from the first managerial job.
5. This is a real problem. Here is difference between a real leader and a bureaucrat. The accountability.
A good leader in an organization will define a kind of risk identification team from the key persons in the organization which will be able to identify real crisis when it is small and react to it in time and with the proper tools. He will be the head of this team.
 

 
Another Common Error During Crises: Not Learning from it
Miguel Sacramento, Business Consultant, Brazil, Member
Another usual error besides the 5 already mentioned is:
6. Not capturing nor disseminating any learned lesson developed from the crisis.
On the opposite, as soon as the crisis ends it becomes part of the past, a history to be forgotten.
 

 
On Crisis Management Error #1: Being Too Passive
Raj Mohan, Management Consultant, India, Member
In many cases the CEO does not realize or gets the real picture of the problem. Sometimes they do not come down from their strategic position asking the people on the work floor what went wrong. As Tom Peters mentioned, managing by wandering around would often help the CEO come out of a crisis and build a strong growth path.
 

 
Looks Like Standard Reactions on a Traumatic Experience
Seelig, ICT Consultant, Netherlands, Member
The passivity, denial, false hope and anger seem like basic human emotions/reactions on a traumatic experience.
 

 
Many in Senior Positions are not Capable to Handle a Crisis
Niraj Kumbhat, Manager, India, Member
In addition to above mentioned problematic behaviours listed, there could be many more. A few are:
7. Decision-making in haste, short term focused.
8. Feeling insecure about the company and self.
9. Too much occupied in routine. But the past may not always repeat.
10. Failing to take bold/right decisions.
 

 
Leadership EQ - Giving Emotional Stability in Times of Stress
Stephen van der Merwe, Student (MBA), South Africa, Member
Point 4 is a typical reaction that exists because our human ego is our worst enemy. I agree here with @Raj Mohan.
Sometimes we wonder where are the leaders when the crisis is on?
We need to get back to the basics that built companies. 'Walking the floor' is fundamental to show support to the persons affected the most. The staff members who live there day to day. The ones who cannot afford to not have a job.
Their emotional stability is vital to handling a crisis and giving the employees a comfortable feeling - although it may be tough then - that they can work to resolve the issues releaves the organisation of stress.
 

 
Leadership Behavior to Avoid in the Event of a Crisis
Manager, HR Consultant, United States, Member
There are even more reasons why so many top people at any organisation fail in crisis and in my opinion at the top of the list are:
11. Failing assessment of root causes. Not being able to identify what went wrong? In other words, what is the heart of the crisis, because as top person in the organisation you need to solve the crisis from the root - not only cut some leaves or branches of the tree.
12. Not asking for help, and not listening to front line staff.
13. Not being calm when you deal with any crisis. It's not easy to be calm and act in a logical, planned way in the event of a crisis.
 

 
Common Leadership Errors during Crises
JOSEPH SOLA ONIFADE, Manager, Nigeria, Member
Leaders always forget that they are chief servants of the people. This is why they never learn from crises that confront them in the process of leading the people. Issues arising from crises are never taken seriously to guide the organization in the future.
The worst mistake leaders make is to be looking for a scapegoat to sacrifice rather than seeing any disagreement between employees as a means of self-discovery and solving the crisis.
Another issue is that they usually have the erroneous belief that everything is alright once a crisis is supposedly resolved.
 

 
Common Crisis Reactions by Leaders and Human Emotional Reactions
Goodsir, Professor, New Zealand, Member
@Seelig: Your comparison of crisis responses to basic human emotions provides an interesting insight.
 

 
Common Errors Leaders Make During Crises
Sunday ELKANA (koachkonsult), Manager, Nigeria, Member
Searching for a scapegoat seems to be the order of the day in crises management by leaders of organizations. But this, in my opinion, is a lazy way out of a crisis.
Going to press to announce an end to a problem when it has in fact not yet been resolved is rather egoistic.
Instead leaders should develop following crises management policy for their organizations. 1. Define scope of the crisis. First understand what the problem is. 2. Create a central Information desk to avoid inconsistencies in data. 3. Document all proceedings towards resolving the crisis. 4. Make recommendations and take informed decisions. 5. Conduct a post-crisis review, etc.
 

 
Crisis Management must Become Another Competency of Effective Change Agents
Tom Boren, Business Consultant, Member
An old adage tells us that whatever can be imagined can be planned for; is it hubris for leaders/managers to ignore or deny the potential for crisis? Especially today, in such a climate of volatile socio-economic variables?
In the past, the role of managers as change agents has often been neglected; effective change management as a specialized skill set has only recently been embraced by business professionals.
Likewise, crisis management deserves to be recognized and anticipated as well. It should be considered a core competency in leadership and organizational development.
 

 
A Crisis is Like a Tsunami: The Pressure for it Develops over the Years
kvssiyer, Consultant, India, Member
Many crises are the consequences of errors traceable to innocence or even intention or complacence. It is not necessarily traceable to lack of or absence of competence by leaders. It may be traceable to overconfidence or becoming blind to the upcoming crisis.
Every crises is like a tsunami. It is not instantaneous and immediate even if it appears to be so. The pressure for a Tsunami (in the earth crust) develops over the years. So is the case with the crisis. It develops over the years when basic, simple issues like grievances or unfair treatments never get attention and settlement.
The moral is attend to all feedback, both positive and negative, and settle it before it develops into a crisis beyond correction.
 

 
The Article is on a Hypothetical 'Myth' Rather than Reality
C.L. Kappagomtula, Professor, Malaysia, Member
Anneke Zwart's article on the common mistakes of leaders, though makes an interesting reading, is nothing buy a myth in reality. Taking these discussed mistakes individually, one will wonder, whether we are talking about a LEADER in real sense, or one who has been 'placed' by various dominating forces, such as influence, family background, or by dint of his expertise in appeasing the superiors, without even possessing any strong mettle within.
Leadership role is a very dicey affair. All cannot just become or qualify themselves to be called LEADERS until / unless that individual displays the prowess, acumen, beyond the bounds of any others in the team / group. False hope, narrow vision, passivity, and such like traits are not there in the real leadership 'kit'. A leader will always be a challenge taker, and do not rest, with half achieved results to claim that the task is over. When one associate the world, leader, with the adjectives discussed in the article, a careful thinking has to be done.
Editor: thanks for sharing your opinion. Please note that the posting by Ms. Zwart is not her personal opinion nor should it be considered a myth. It's intended as a summary of interesting findings from research performed by P.B. Hirsch, recently published in the Journal of Business Strategy.
 

 
Crisis Management and Effectiveness of Surrendering
srinivas, Lecturer, India, Member
In a crisis situation if a leader 'surrenders' to the existing situation and devotedly searches for a solution with a belief that within the existing boundary conditions there exists a solution, then I believe that a solution will manifest that is unique and satisfies all boundary conditions.
 

 
Leadership and Management
Andrew Blaine, Business Consultant, South Africa, Member
The original study was of senior management, which does not necessarily imply leadership ability. Managers are appointed, generally on their ability to complete a task, leaders are made, with a more general application of talent. To mix the two with the same label is a mistake.
 

 
Leaders or Top Managers or Top Excutives
Jaap de Jonge, Editor, Netherlands
@Andrew Blaine: thanks for bringing this up. We are discussing the common errors made by those people that are in charge in a crisis make when they're faced with such situations.
They can be labelled and referred to as leaders, top managers, top executives. It doesn't matter here.
Here you find an in-depth discussion about managers versus leaders and their differences (if any).
 

 
Common Errors Leaders Make During Crisis
Borje Vickberg, Sweden, Member
Many wise comments on JP Hirsch´s research. I would like to add two aspects.
The Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman’s ‘theory-induced blindness‘ suggests that our theories of how the world works, blind us to how the world really works. (Editor: principle by Kahneman that once you have accepted a theory, it is extraordinarily difficult to notice its flaws.) This can explain passivity.
He also stressed in his book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” that the risk of making wrong and hasty decisions when we only see bad options as considerable. This can explain how a leader can worsen a crisis when trying to act. Insight of this aspect can however induce passivity.
 

 
Attitudes of Leaders During Crisis Management: Impatience
Augustine Ngmentomo Beakana, Student (MBA), Ghana, Member
I agree with all the various views expressed expressed so far. A variant of #7 that I have also noticed is the Impatience leaders sometimes exhibit during crises management.
 

 
On Common Errors of Leader in Crises #5: Mistrust
Tran le Phuong, Teacher, Mongolia, Member
Thank you so much for bringing this up. Through my observation one more thing to be added is that leaders tend to pass the mistake to others and mistrusts their subordinates.
 

 
On #12. Common Error of Leaders in Crises: Not Opening up and Involving Others
Pros Yiga, Uganda, Member
I agree to other views already aired.
I also believe leaders should open up to the rest of the team. Work together as a team, engage the team to plan on the way forward. This makes the crisis become an issue for the group rather than only the leader. Working together brings out various ideas and most probably solves the crisis quicker than having one one head tackling the issue. Openness does matter a lot in this respect.
 

 
Leader Errors before a Crisis Occurs: Not being Sensitive to Warning Signals
Alhaji Jabbi, Student (MBA), Gambia, Member
All views mentioned can be useful. In addition to @kvssiyer, I suggest
14. Insensitivity for Early Warning Signals. Leaders need to be sensitive to events (signals) in the external environment of the organization and take appropriate actions i.e. they should not wait for crises to occur. This may prevent, minimize the effect or ease the crisis.
 

 
Culture Differences also Play a Role in How Crises should be Dealt with
Seelig, ICT Consultant, Netherlands, Member
@Borje Vickberg: I agree Thinking Fast and Slow is an excellent book; it explains very well how human brains can be manipulated (think about priming).
The book "Cultures and Organizations Software of the Mind" by Geert Hofstede, Gert-Jan Hofstede, Michael Minkov explains how cultural dimensions impact our mindset. Natural leadership requires in Sweden for so far I understand another type of personality than for example in the Netherlands.
 

 
Not all Kind of Leaders Make these Common Errors
Friday O. Ngbodi, Student (MBA), Nigeria, Member
The points by other contributors are valid to the extent of the culture and communal settings prevalent. The type of organization, PLC, Ltd., Govt., establishment and where the organization’s power resides provides a basis in judging a leader’s response to crisis:
- I believe that those that carry titles WITHOUT POWER are more prone to the listed common errors made during crises.
- Also those WITH POWER without a track record in dealing with organizational crises are also prone to the common errors.
- Finally Owner-CEOs would probably be more careful in making such common errors as listed by Anneke Zwart, because his entire personal savings are involved.
 

 
Frequent Mistakes by Leaders during a Crisis
Fernando Ochoa, Manager, Mexico, Member
A related factor to #12 is:
15. Rely on the people close to the leader only. (Ed: see Core Group Theory). After all, there are normally several layers of professionals that can provide really good possibilities to overcome the crisis. It's often worth talking and listening to them. This will definitely provide a deeper insight to the problem and possible solutions.
 

 
Another Common Error of Leaders During a Crisis
Zahid asghar, Consultant, Member
16. Not staying accessible, keeping communications open, staying involved with the team and supporting them, winning them emotionally. While taking the end responsibility and helping to find solutions.
 

 
Frequent Mistake by Leaders During Crisis: Not Involving Lower Echelons
Manager, HR Consultant, United States, Member
@Fernando Ochoa: indeed it's worth talking and listening to them, all people in any organization, not only the top people can make changes.
So why when the crisis hits the organization you don't listen to them? Give them the chance to feel part of this body, since they also will be affected if we don't work very hard to overcome this issue. Once this feeling surrounds them, the creativity will grow tremendously.
 

 
Leaders Need to Be Open and Clear
ANUJ KUMAR SHRIVASTAVA, Manager, India, Premium Member
I completely agree to all 16 points mentioned so far. Also many a times leaders
17. Fear of coming up with the truth. For example, when a company merges with or acquires another or is being acquired by another firm, there is often a feeling of fear and crises develop easily in the organization because of people who are afraid of being fired / loss of jobs.
The leader often keeps most of the intentions secret. This actually increases these feelings of anxiety. It could be better to be transparent even if the news for some people is not good.
 

 
More Common Errors Leaders Make During Crises
Ali Wagfi, Professor, Member
I think following errors may happens during crises:
18. Centralization in passing orders and instructions. One might also say: Lack of delegation of authorities.
19. Lack of coordination between group members.
 

 
On #1: Indecision is Worse Than Bad Decision During Crises
Ayele Abdata, Manager, Ethiopia, Member
Most leaders and managers are indifferent and during a crisis in their organizations they simply look on, even when vandals and robbers destroy their organizations or their country.
Why do leaders and scholars keep silent when their people need to hear their influential voice? To avoid bad decision.
But remember during a crisis a wrong decision is much better than indecision and indifference. We can learn from and build on a bad or wrong decision.
But what can we learn from doing nothing? Nothing.
 

 
On Crisis Management Error #12
kvssiyer, Consultant, India, Member
Potential crises are better diagnosed and prevented in group settings wherein participants bring out the possible crises in the prevailing circumstances giving time for eradication of the factors leading to the crises. It is in this context group thinking and debates and brain storming helps.
 

 
Crisis Management Error #20: Interfere At Operational Level
Quentin, HR Consultant, United Arab Emirates, Member
One of my observations from own experience (Business Continuity Management training) within our company is the temptation from senior management to meddle when they are not directly involved in the crisis management team dealing with the incident and to interfere at the operational level when they should remain at the strategic level, thereby creating greater indecision and confusion.
 

 
Bad Decisions versus no Decision
Andrew Blaine, Business Consultant, South Africa, Member
@Ayele Abdata: I agree with your commentary. See my view under "Bad Decision Versus No Decision.
 

     
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