Characteristics of Crisis Leadership

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Characteristics of Crisis Leadership
Michael Norris, Director, United States

This abbreviated version of a paper by Nichols, Hayden, and Trendler demonstrate the necessary leadership behaviors which are needed in our unstable times.

4 Behaviors That Help Leaders Manage a Crisis

The roles and responsibilities of leaders have dramatically changed since 2020. COVID-19, rumors of war, social unrest, unmitigated inflation, frequent severe weather, and natural disasters have executives navigating through health and safety concerns, lack of staffing, increased operating costs, and a litany of entangling rules and regulations. Leaders are tested in areas where they have not fully developed their leadership skills, with a steep learning curve.

Leaders must cultivate four organization-wide behaviors: decide with speed over precision, adapt boldly, reliably deliver, and engage for impact.

1: Decide with speed over precision
Situations are hyper-dynamic, changing by the hour. Leaders must quickly process available information, rapidly set priorities, and make decisions with certainty. In crisis cognitive overload looms; information is incomplete and dated, priorities clash, and emotions run high. Analysis paralysis results, exacerbated by the natural tendency of organizations wanting to build consensus. Leaders break through the inertia to keep the organization trained on business continuity today while increasing the odds of mid- to long-term success by focusing on priorities. A scalable framework for rapid decision-making is critical.

• Define priorities.
• Name the decision makers.
• Embrace action; don’t punish errors.

2: Adapt boldly
Leaders get ahead of changing circumstances, seeking input and information from diverse sources. They are not afraid to admit what they don’t know, and bring in outside expertise when needed.

• Decide what not to do.
• Throw out yesterday’s playbook.
• Strengthen/build or direct connections to the front line.

3: Reliably deliver.
Leaders take ownership in a crisis even though many challenges lie outside their control. They align team focus, establish new metrics to monitor performance, and create a culture of accountability.

• Stay alert to and aligned on a daily dashboard of priorities
• Set KPIs and other metrics to measure performance.
• Keep mind and body in fighting shape.

4: Engage for impact.
In times of crisis, the most important job is understanding your team’s circumstances and taking care of them. Leaders find ways to engage, motivate, communicate, set goals and information. Leaders reiterate priorities frequently to ensure continued alignment in this time of constant and stressful change.

• Connect with individual team members.
• Dig deep - engage your teams.
• Ask for help as needed.
• Focus on both customers and employees.
• Collect and amplify the positive
• Training your team for crisis leadership.

Consider how these roles will change in the post-crisis world and whether your key executives are positioned for success. Most importantly, assess whom you want at the table both in the current crisis and in the longed-for tomorrow when we emerge to a new normal.

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