You have probably experienced many years of growth and improvement in your field. However, if you are like many professionals who have been unable to attain the meaningful managerial positions that allow you to make autonomous decisions then this article is for you. Demonstrating sound judgement during moments of crisis is an effective way of showing others that you are ready for more leadership responsibility. Throughout the course of my international business career I have worked with seasoned business leaders who demonstrate high-levels of leadership in moments of crisis. I will share with you 8 key traits as they relate to providing a high degree of professional poise during moments of crisis.
In this context, “moments of crisis” include one-off events that have an adverse effect on business operations (e.g. financial cycle changes, management or personnel disruptions, or even external catastrophic events and crises). Use this as a guide, this is not an exhaustive list – these are guidelines that I use and share with my clients as a part of a larger strategy when tackling strategic challenges.
1. Your Ability to Act Without Permission
When the preverbal ‘sh*t hits the fan’ and authority is preoccupied, or otherwise unavailable, this ability is important to have. The key determiner in ‘the ability to act without permission’ is sound judgment – without sound judgment, there is a high risk of making reckless decisions.
To be able to make the right decision, strong crisis leaders need to be independent, self-managed, and capable of demonstrating sound judgment. Vested in their DNA is intellectual integrity and confidence. Taking ownership of the situation means decisiveness. You need a combination of real-time data and your “gut” to be willing to make a decision and never shy away from the consequences of what you see. The key element here is having a degree of autonomy. Whether you are on the high- or low-end of your organization’s ‘org chart’ it is important for you to be able to demonstrate the ability to act with competent autonomy.
2. Your Ability to Communicate Information Effectively
In moments of crisis communication channels tend to become energized and even the most important pieces of information can get lost in the noise. This is why your message must be clear, concise and polished.
Focusing on “effective” is key here because effective communication enhances success, trust, understanding, respect, decision-making, teamwork and problem-solving in professional relationships. Effective communication enables you to successfully convey your thought, ideas, and decisions to others during a crisis. As a leader, you should present your message in a clear, concise, confident and friendly manner. Communicating effectively involves displaying respect, empathy, and open-mindedness as well as using the right channels when communicating the message. This way, your audience feels understood, making it possible to conduct a more honest and productive conversation.
3. Your Ability to Think “Outside of the Box”
During a crisis, sometimes you need to come up with imaginative solutions in order to get rid of the threats. Thinking outside of the box means that you’re brave enough to gamble and enact measures which have never been tried before in history. Though not guaranteed to work, thinking outside the box is helpful when predictable measures are likely to fail.
As an outside-the-box thinker, you are like an inventor. You invent or design mechanisms that no one else can because to you the crisis in front is not a permanent entrapment but rather it is a temporary obstacle blocking you from your long-term objective.
4. Your Ability to Stay Calm (Under Pressure, or Otherwise)
In the midst of crisis or emergency, people rarely remain calm and collected. Being apathetic during a crisis is not remaining calm but rather ignorant to understand the gravity of the situation. Remaining calm means that you foresee the disaster and respond accordingly without panic. You can know if you have the ability to remain calm by how you react to minor stress situations. Are you the type that literally runs and hides or is able to stand your ground and face the problems head-on? If you are a reactionary type of person and want to master the ability to stay calm in moments of crises then you must work, and continually practice, to get rid of the reactionary trait as soon as possible.
5. Your Ability to Direct Force Intelligently
Sometimes a crisis can emanate from man-made errors or action. Dealing with such scenarios requires that you apply force and self-defense to eliminate people responsible for such actions. Without proper intelligence, you might end up directing force haphazardly or lashing out in anger, harming the wrong people in the process. To avoid this catastrophic error, you need the ability to direct force intelligently so that you have the propensity to act without permission while remaining patient. When you take action, have precision and insight.
When I first began working internationally I noticed the importance of business strategy and tactics. Regardless of the industry that you are in, you will eventually reach a point in your professional life where you will need to ‘push-the-envelope’ and employ “professional judo” – a combination of real-time strategic analysis, negotiation, and communication skills towards fulfilling your professional goals. Your ability to intelligently direct force during moments of crisis will be a material element as you develop into an effective leader.
6. Your Ability to Psychologically Process Carnage
During crisis or disasters, things can get really messy and horrifying. The aim is to have the ability to process such carnage without being drained mentally while maintaining your humanity.
This character trait means that as we continue to hold our empathy, we should not let it disrupt our ability to respond to disasters and reach out to those in need of help. We should never be like sociopaths who have the endurance to attend to grisly jobs but are incapable of caring about others. Instead, we should take responsibility in leading and directing others irrespective of how ugly the situation is.
As former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani once said about crisis...
When everyone else is freaking out, you are becoming calmer and more-centered.
7. Your Ability to Self-Sacrifice
Not everyone can easily exhibit this quality. This is because it is nearly impossible to know for certain how we would act or call for self-endurance in worst situations. Self-endurance should be called up only when it is certain to save lives and that there are no other options available. You should not enact self-endurance for personal gain as it can lead to disaster instead of redemption.
8. Your Ability to Recognize When Others Are More Qualified to Accomplish A Task
Taking initiative during a crisis is vital but it is also important to recognize when other people are more qualified than you for a specific task. Good leadership requires that you defer responsibilities in a practical way. If you’re not skilled in a particular area, be ready to hand over responsibilities to people better suited to certain tasks. That way, you’ll be able to build a community of shared leadership and expertise.
8.5. Your Ability to Delegate
During a crisis, it is natural to feel that delegation of duties could lead to certain situations not being handled properly. The individual you delegate to may be unable to work well under pressure, resulting in an ineffective response or worse an escalation of the crisis. Effective delegation requires that you delegate tasks to the right person with skills and competence to handle the situation. Successful crisis leaders find a win-win deal with the delegate so that delegation saves them time and the delegate gains valuable learning experience. You should also monitor the progress of task execution as you’re still responsible for the task that is completed. You need to communicate effectively with the delegate so that they know what outcome is expected and what the requirements are for the task.
If you quickly skimmed through this article and just want the ‘quick-fix’ action steps of the key abilities you need in leadership crisis management – here you go: Develop the trait of working autonomously in a competent manner. Communicate effectively. Employ creative problem-solving. Stay calm under pressure. Be assertive. Develop a thick-skin. Delegate when necessary. Those are the keys to developing and practicing leadership in moments of crisis.
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