Apr 01 2020| Leadership | crisis
by Phil Eyre Founder
As part of our mission to promote excellence in leadership, we host leadership breakfasts throughout the year. This month, we ran a digital breakfast, and having set the subject several weeks ago, little did we realise how much the world would change in such a short time.
We have summarised the main insights on leading in a crisis, which fall under four headings and include some helpful points and tips. For me this is all about integrity, which is built on trust.
The purpose of leadership in a time of crisis is to ‘en-courage’. When Major General Patrick Marriott visited Guernsey recently, he insightfully told us that “fear is contagious, but so is courage”. Leaders that are high in integrity will build courage.
What does integrity look like in practice in a time of crisis?
Leaders that build integrity into their organisations prepare and practice, attempting to get ‘ahead of the curve’, leading their organisations rather than just reacting to the latest information.
Business continuity planning will have helped some businesses to prepare well for working from home, even if the full extent of the current Covid-19 lock-down conditions were not anticipated. Interestingly, in Guernsey, the civil contingency group ‘practiced’ in November for a pandemic situation, this will have helped the island to stay one step ahead.
Some businesses with a global reach learnt from their colleagues in Asia and took pre-emptive action in the event that the UK and Channel Islands would experience similar problems, as has now become the case.
Being alert and attuned to the bigger picture, beyond immediate demands, is a critical leadership skill. In our work, this is one of the factors that we measure via psychometrics and we have noticed a steady decline in this skill-area. Anecdotally, our hypothesis is that too many leaders are relying too heavily on their solving skills rather than developing their awareness and avoidance capabilities.
Lesson: It’s crucial to step back, ask questions beyond the immediate, seek new and diverse perspectives rather than dive-in manager-style to solve the immediate issue.
Leaders need to continually prepare for the next thing. In the current fast-changing environment there will be more problems to come, further issues to deal with. For example, some leaders in our conversation had planned well practically but had underestimated the emotional response in their people. We are now preparing for a period of pastoral leadership (more to follow from me on that this week); supporting team members if (and likely when) illness or tragedy escalate.
Challenge: This is not the time to breathe a sigh of relief; what do you need to prepare for next?
Putting people at the centre of crisis-strategy is an important part of building high-integrity teams. This relies on trust, which essentially springs from relational, human factors. Think of someone that you trust and what they’ve done to earn that trust; it’s unlikely to be because of a policy or procedure.
Investing in building trust is always important and sets up an organisation to get through a crisis, even if ii doesn’t seem efficient to do so at the time. Crises are, by nature, non-efficient. Now is the time to draw on relational strengths in your teams, put trust into practice and intentionally build up the human factors.
In a crisis, people pull together; one leader noted a huge increase in engagement in the business, another highlighted community interdependencies and how our own organisations depend on others to succeed.
Lesson: Leaders should not assume that everyone knows what they’re thinking, expecting and what’s new, nor that the message has been received as intended. Consistent, clear, transparent and calm communication is vital. This builds trust.
Challenge: What can you do to build trust within your team, especially if you’re working remotely?
We strongly believe that the purpose of what you do as leaders is always important. Never more so in a crisis. This is the time to apply the effort that you have put into understanding your purpose, mission and values; take the words off the walls and live them.
Ensuring that the purpose, the “why?” of what you do is front and centre will help to:
Lesson: If your people are not clear on your business purpose, they will flounder in a crisis. Leaders need to ensure that the whole organisation remains focussed on how the business improves other people’s lives and makes a difference, especially in a crisis. The immediate tasks and disruption, whilst demanding, serve a greater purpose.
Challenge: Is the purpose of what you do clear, front and centre? How would I know, what would I see?
There’s a lot that we might not take with us through this crisis. Products and services might not be launched, share price targets might not be met, retirement plans might change, career aspirations might not be achieved. But what we can take with us - and must take with us - are our principles (see Hold On to the Right Things).
Now is the time to live our values everyday. Understanding what truly matters to us and choosing to not cross those red lines, even if it’s “just this once”. As fear rises, it becomes easier to excuse behaviour and attitude that are anti-values, but this undermines trust in an instant, let alone results in regrettable decisions.
Lesson: In a crisis, losses are inevitable, some far more meaningful than others. Holding to our principles is essential to get through with integrity intact, enabling the business to take new opportunities quickly.
Challenge: What difficult choices are you facing today? How will your principles guide your decision?
We are grateful for the strength of leadership in our island and here to help. Our offer of support and challenge in a crisis may be if interest, click here for the details.