How can leaders manage a crisis effectively?
Leadership often gets highlighted when everything is sailing smoothly or working out in favor of an organization. Rather, the times of crisis are when people critically evaluate the effectiveness of leadership. History tends to suggest that great leaders established their credentials in times of crisis hence it does provide everyone a great opportunity to lead. While leadership can be exercised by anyone at any point in time, it is in times of crisis when people look for that one personality which in their mind fulfills the criteria of effective ’Leader’.
People behave differently during the crisis and therefore a leader also needs to think, act, and behave in ways that may be termed as unconventional or unfamiliar. Crisis can occur anytime or anywhere. It is often hard to fathom how long a crisis will take to completely dissipate. It can easily range from a couple of days to even years. Irrespective of the protocols that are available within an organization to prevent a crisis, each new crisis is unique and different from the last one. Its unanticipated and unique nature often do not leave leaders with enough time to foresee or prepare. Therefore there aren’t really any ‘7 steps to manage crisis’ that would work in every crisis. But one can learn a lot about what worked and what didn’t when you analyze a crisis in hindsight. One does come across a pattern of certain leadership behaviors which more often than not work. Application of each of these are highly contextual and therefore generalizing them as effective can lead to failure in managing crisis.
Following leadership behaviors that often seem to have worked during the crisis:
- Decisiveness: Crisis demands leaders to be quick with making decisions as often there is not enough time to measure the pros and cons or build consensus or dawdle. Sometimes they need to make some of the hardest decisions even when they do not fetch any brownie points. A leader who has built credibility and trust prior to a crisis has a higher probability of his decisions being accepted or followed. It is important that people whose leader is directing believe in his or her capability and his intent being good for themselves or for a larger team or for society at large.
- Frequent communication: After garnering the credible information about the crisis, it should be dispersed to the entire organization in a manner in which people can digest. Transparency should work as a primary key during times of crisis. It helps a great deal in eliminating the fear and spreading awareness among the employees about the actions and concerns of their leader. Moreover, one must make sure that the information is shared more than once with the employees thru formal/informal channels. Frequent reinforcement will help it to sink in better.
- Confidence: This is one most crucial point to remember while handling a crisis. A leader becomes the face of the organization during times of emergency, and everyone looks up to him, puts their confidence in him. In such a situation, if he/she displays signs of fear, unease, confusion or lack of conviction, it will naturally percolate down to all the other employees. Therefore, a leader must be confident enough to deal with any crisis. He or she may even need someone whom he/she trusts to test ideas before he/she feels confident about them.
- Resourcefulness: A crisis may require a leader to pull all kinds of resources in order to effectively managing it. Be it physical resources, internal/ external networks, data, and information,…a leader should have an ability to mobilize them at the time of crisis. The availability of resources can ease implementation woes while executing a crisis management plan.
- Chaos Control: When a crisis surfaces, the work environment is likely to get affected quickly due to the chaos that it causes. With stress and fear overpowering the general temperament of people, it becomes imperative for the leader to control the panic from being contagious. It may involve delegating the tasks or just bringing order amidst the anarchy. A crisis action plan will bear fruitful results as long as there is a focus and a firm determination to finish the task at hand. More the people know and believe in the favorable outcome as a leader has painted for them, better will be the leader’s ability to control Chaos
- Visibility & accessibility: Visibility and accessibility of the leader during a crisis are critical in times of crisis. Employees often develop a need to frequently hear from their leaders that allows them to restore their confidence. It is the responsibility of the leader to appear calm, composed, concerned, and in charge, thereby making the employees feel encouraged. Even if an employee does not need a leader to clarify, the fact that he or she knows that the leader is available can boost his confidence while sailing through tough times.
- Calculated risk-taking: Crisis cannot be an excuse to toss caution away and take uncalculated risks. Leaders must be able to weigh all the possible measures, evaluate all the relevant facts, and then make a sound decision regarding the course of action. The presence and alertness of mind should be cultivated as a valuable skill that will help them in taking calculated risks.