The Best Leadership Behaviours To Navigate a Crisis

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In a time of crisis, effective leadership can often prove the difference between death and survival. It’s a leader’s dilemma: they’ve got so many obligations to meet, that it can become an impossible task at times, particularly when the economy is moving south. On the Best Practice blog, we’ve been writing a significant amount of content following the thread of crisis management, the formulas to navigate a testing time for your organisation, a step-by-step guide to business continuity, as well as the importance of maintaining customer relationships in a time of crisis, and considering the scope of the challenges in the landscape as they exist today, we’re going to continue the thread.

Today’s topic takes quotes from a recent Harvard Business Review article from Shona Chatterjee Hayden, Chris Nichols and Chris Trendler, members of ghSMART, a company that specialises in leadership development for large-scale companies and investment firms; they’ve conducted an astounding 21,000 assessments of leaders and have since refined their findings. Considering their roles and first-hand experience, I thought they’d be great sources of information on the topic of effective management styles - as well as the negative ones - to successfully navigate a time of crisis.

They state, first and foremost that the roles and their responsibilities have changed drastically in recent weeks, with leaders, executives and CEOs previously focussed on gaining further market share and driving their revenue. Now, however, the authors state that they’re primarily concerned with making “rapid decisions about controlling costs and maintaining liquidity. They may encounter unforeseen roadblocks - supply chain issues, team shortages, and operational challenges - that drastically alter the scope of their roles and priorities.” It seems rather essential to consider the fact that while the CEO’s roles and responsibilities might have changed drastically, their temperament and hypothesis behind their decision-making is just as integral as the wider market’s changes when it comes to that organisation staying afloat through the crisis.

For some, this might be the first real crisis they’ve faced, and they might be handicapped by the fact that, as the authors state, “they have not fully developed their leadership muscles, and the learning curve will be steep.” For anyone in that position, whether you’re a leader or not, this is a time to dramatically increase the rate of personal and professional development you’re undertaking, getting coaching, reading books and case studies, ingesting as much information as possible to recontextualise their learnings into possible decisions in their organisation. The authors of the piece we’re looking at today state that while this is admirable, it’s not enough, and those leaders need to develop four specific behaviours to give their organisation and its employees the best fighting chance. “They must decide with speed over precision,” they state, “adapt bodly, reliably deliver and engage for impact,” they write.

Decide With Speed Over Precision

As I’m sure you’d know, the pace at which this pandemic has caused turmoil in markets worldwide is unprecedented. It would come as no surprise then, that the authors of the piece argue that one of the most important behaviours in this context is to move with speed over precision. “The best leaders quickly process available information, rapidly determine what matters most, and make decisions with conviction,” they write, adding that if a leader chooses the opposite approach, they risk the age-old paralysis by analysis. “Leaders must break through the inertia to keep the organisation trained on business continuity today while increasing the odds of mid-to-long term success by focusing on the few things that matter most. A simple, scalable framework for rapid decision-making is critical,” they add.

Perhaps not so coincidentally, I’ve written a guide on how to deploy speed in your organisation as well as how to hack your organisation’s operation to gain a more agile organisation, both of which talk about the most essential points listed above. There are, at times, some situations that necessitate speed and agility over anything else. Leaders need to be aware of this, and while it might be uncomfortable to throw away the rule book, the results can often - sadly - speak for themselves. It’s important to first define your priorities, and establish a list of at least three-to-five of these to ensure that your decision making, despite the rapid speed, is in line with these priorities. The authors also state that it’s essential to embrace action and not to punish any mistakes made, establish your war room - a topic I covered just last week - and to make smart trade-offs in the decision making process.

Adapt Boldly

The second behaviour essential for managing a time of crisis is to adapt bodly, meaning that leaders “seek input and information from diverse sources, are not afraid to admit what they don’t know, and bring in outside expertise when needed.” The authors add that the leader should “decide what not to do. Put a hold on large initiatives and expenses, and ruthlessly prioritize. Publicise your ‘what not to do’ choices’,” they say, so everyone in the organisation is aware of the decision-making process and what’s shaping the leader’s hypothesis. They add that a leader should “throw out yesterday’s playbook. The actions that previously drove results may no longer be relevant. The best leaders adjust quickly and develop new plans of attack.”

Finally, a leader should look to consolidate their “direct connections to the front line”, making sure the organisation has a clear view of each and every aspect of its operations to ensure that whatever decision is made on the fly, is made with the most information possible. “Whether running a supply chain, leading a waste management company, or overseeing a pharmaceutical company, leaders must get situational assessments early and often,” they write. “One way is to create a network of local leaders and influencers who can speak with deep knowledge about the impact of the crisis and the sentiments of customers, suppliers, employees and other stakeholders.”

“The best leaders take personal ownership in a crisis, even though many challenges and factors lie outside their control. They align team focus, establish new metrics to monitor performance and create a culture of accountability.”

Reliably Deliver

From here, the authors argue that leaders should use the previous steps to ensure that they can - and the wider organisation - can reliably deliver to everyone in that stakeholder group. “The best leaders take personal ownership in a crisis, even though many challenges and factors lie outside their control. They align team focus, establish new metrics to monitor performance and create a culture of accountability.” In order to make this happen, the authors state that a leader should stay aligned with their list of priorities, and review the performance of the organisation up against them frequently. “Review and update your ‘hit list’ at the end of each day or week,” they say. From here, you establish a set of KPIs to measure performance, and keep in mind that “to reliably deliver, leaders must maintain their equanimity even when others are losing their heads,” suggesting that this is a time for leaders to practice self-care more than ever before. “Stock up on energy, emotional reserves and coping mechanisms,” they note.

Engage for Impact

The fourth and final behaviour is to engage for impact. “In times of crisis,” they say, “no job is more important than taking care of your team. Effective leaders are understanding of their team’s circumstances and distractions, but they find ways to engage and motivate, clearly and thoroughly communicating important new goals for information.” While a leader’s plate might already be brimming with obligations and responsibilities, during a crisis, they need to be aware that they’re also accountable to their staff in keeping up communication levels.

There’s a number of reasons why this is important, stemming from an employee’s inherent need to be recognised in the workplace, but also to ensure that all your employees are in-line with the organisation’s tack in direction, and to assure that the key promises you’re making to clients and other stakeholders are met. The authors state that you should ensure there is a focus on both customers and employees, adding that to connect with your customers you should “reach out, but first do no harm. Track and document intel across your customer base. To strengthen relationships and build trust, keep the focus off yourself and explore how you can truly help your customers - for example, by proposing payment schedules to ease their liquidity crunch,” for example.

Communicating to engage for maximum impact both internally and externally will have you better positioned in a time of crisis, and you’ll be able to make more informed decisions in a short period of time if you take this point seriously. It’s not an easy process, but who said that navigating a ship through a storm would ever be easy? I wish you all the best as you steer your ship, and I’ll be coming back to you very soon with more relevant help and information.

Thanks again for your time, and I’ll see you in the next piece.

Kobi Simmat - Director & CEO of the Best Practice Group.

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