We expect a lot out of our leaders and sometimes it might be too much. The art of leadership is all about setting the tone, providing vision and direction and moving things along in a steady pace. Leadership is influence, influencing people to work at their potential to get the job done. Reading the signs along the way and making gentle course corrections usually brings one across the finish line with little or no interruptions in things.
The captain of a cargo ship has to plan for many things when setting sail for port. For example a 103,000 ton ship at full speed can take more than a mile to stop so knowing what and where to obstacles are is important in navigation of his ship.
In a 2011 essay in the Harvard Business Review, leadership consultant and coach John Baldoni laid out the five principles for leadership in crisis.
Take a moment to figure out what is going on. Assemble your team, delegate responsibility to the necessary people to gather the information and then report back with their finding. Chaos is never good and can lead to bad decisions.
Act promptly, not hurriedly. A leader provides direction and that needs to be provided in a timely fashion. Making decision in a sense of urgency or hurried will only case those on the team to get nervous and feel unsure about the direction things are going. Slow down; catch your breath, and then act.
Manage expectations. Slow and steady wins the race. The initial reaction to crisis is that it be over as quickly as possible. All relevant data needs to be collected before a decision can be made about how to respond to the crisis. Alarming people is never good but giving them information is important.
Demonstrate control. During the aftermath of the Blizzard of 1978 Governor Michael Dukakis appeared on television almost nightly wearing a sweater and providing updates on the crisis. He tone and demeanor lead to a calming of people. Sometimes the information he provided was not earth shattering but by doing it he able to calm people down. Bringing in the necessary experts to work on the situation and out resources also helps to demonstrate that the leader has control of the situation.
Keep loose. “A hallmark of a crisis is its ability to change quickly; your first response may not be your final response.” Leadership is situational and what works in this particular instance might not work in the same instance tomorrow. A leader has to be willing and able to change course if that is what is necessary. If a particular strategy is not working then look for an alternative, adapt the present one or throw it out all together and look for a different one.
The leader’s job is not to do the heavy lifting but to surround him/herself with the right people. The leader provides the vision and sets the direction as well as the tone. If the leader is frantic the rest of the team will be frantic, if the leader is calm and brings that sense of calm to the situation, then the team will be calm. Although we may want our leader, be it president or some other leader, to act quickly I always remind myself that they are aware of thousands of pieces of information we are not, and for good reason. We have to trust our leadership that they know what is going on when we clearly do not.
Being a leader when things are running smooth is easy but more often than not leadership is tested in times of crisis. Baldoni makes it clear that following these guidelines will enable the leader to be that calm presence and then be able to provide the vision and direction necessary to the task.
What we need is a leader who is just that, calm and measured and not one willing to push the button and blow them off the face of the earth. That is the easy solution, but what is the measured response in crisis, that is the question.