Leading in times of crisis requires managers to make critical decisions under intense pressure and, sometimes, impending danger. The relevant adage reminds us that the game of business is played in the jungle and not on the playground; dangers are lurking everywhere. The goal of crisis leadership is to prevent a crisis from becoming an all-out disaster.
COVID-19 is teaching us some valuable lessons in how to, and how not to, lead in times of crisis. What is eerily unique about the nature of this crisis is that is multi-layered. The health dangers compound the economic perils, which are accentuated by the social and educational crisis we all find ourselves in. All of these factors stemming from what we call COVID-19 have dramatically impacted business as we know it.
The temptation in the midst of crisis is to sometimes patch holes in the fence to fix the problems. Plans and actions are usually focused on getting “back to the past” or the established status quo. Crisis leaders, however, must see beyond the holes in the fence. Their strategy should be focused on “going to the future” and the opportunities that await. Crisis leadership is making a decision to embrace the new normal as opposed to trying to reclaim the old. The word “crisis” comes from the Greek word 'krino', which means to decide.
When crisis strikes, its paralysing effects on business progress can be resolved with the formula of knowing how to identify the root issues; knowing what to do about them; communicating the issues to the relevant stakeholders; implementing a plan of attack and then resolving the problem.
There is often a dangerous tendency to ignore the early signs or onset of a crisis situation, thinking it will simply ‘work out’. The danger here, as the research confirms, is that 70 percent of crises will evolve and escalate if no form of intervention is introduced. Research also suggests that more than 50 percent of crises adversely impact business profits. Ignoring the reality of any threat to profits is unwise.
The most vulnerable companies are those with weak internal structures, limited communication patterns and a high resistance to learning. It is time to take notes and pay attention.
All companies must engage in the ongoing planning and preparation for an inevitable crisis. These will surely occur. Such plans are crucial for on-boarding new staff into the company, but also as a means of readying existing team members for issues that will arise. Crisis plans are never used as they are written in the heat of these moments. There is always some messiness to the business of following a plan of hypotheticals. Just roll with it and be flexible enough to make the changes as you go along. This is all a part of the learning process.
• NB: Ian R Ferguson is a talent management and organisational development consultant, having completed graduate studies with regional and international universities. He has served organsations, both locally and globally, providing relevant solutions to their business growth and development issues. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.