What is leadership in a crisis

The Problem with BP is a failure of leadership after the disaster

These days, you get dozens of results by searching for ‘leadership’ and ‘economic crisis’ on Google. The same happens when searching for ‘leadership’ and ‘downsizing’. The general consensus is clear: during challenging times, individuals look to their leaders for inspiration, guidance and reassurance. But leaders are also the first to be blamed when things go wrong and people start losing their jobs.

The Telegraph suggests that the ‘Financial crisis calls for confident leadership’. Similarly, the Washing Post informs that a ‘Financial Crisis Offers a Study in Leadership Styles’ – and we have just seen an example of how we expect leaders to act (or not act) when we look at the recent oil disaster in the gulf.

It seems that Leadership is, yet again, at the centre of anything that is good and bad when it comes to the heart of the business. Lack of courage, reckless decision making, greed and dishonesty are some of the sins that leaders of today are said to be guilty of. It seems that in the good times they take the money and bask in the glory until a problem occurs that seems to overwhelm them.

So what should leaders do in these critical times? The economic downturn was the ultimate test for those in charge and only those individuals that were most equipped with skills could maximise their chance of keeping their seats until the end of the last rollercoaster ride. On the positive side, however, it is known that Leaders need not be responsible for their own demise. Through coaching and the development of self-awareness, leaders can learn how to avoid over-extending themselves and be able to make a conscious decision to not ‘cross the line’ when compromised – the line that takes them to the unpopular side of business. I wonder who on earth is coaching Tony Hayward is beyond me – its not that he could do anything about stopping the oil leak (bar donning a diving suit and taking along a set of spanners) but the management of the image of the company is woefully inadequate – which after all is something he could do something about.

Leaders of today may not be the leaders of tomorrow for sure. Much of the territory we are exploring today is of an unchartered nature. And perhaps, through a Darwinian lens, we may hypothesise that only the fittest, the strongest and the wisest may able to survive and perhaps flexibility and adaptability as essential skills for effective and successful leadership. And ultimately, of course, the building of self-awareness through coaching and development.

So, what kind of Leader will you be?

4 thoughts on “What is leadership in a crisis”

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  2. I totally agree with your point regarding leadership coming under scrutiny. I’d like to add to your list, citing lack of courage, reckless decision making, greed, dishonesty and and simple inability to make decisions in a crisis. BP is a good example in your piece, but I have seen inertia and denial on a wide scale in smaller and more local organisations. Leadership inaction will lead to deterioration in an already bad situation – and massive cuts in government spending are a real and current example. Rather than allowing themselves to become distracted or freeze like rabbits in the headlights, bosses need to get to grips with the situation and act like effective crisis leaders. If bosses aren’t up to the job they are likely to allow themselves to get distracted or retreat into their comfort zones rather than make the tough decisions required of them. See my post on this at http://www.calibrehr.com

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