Leadership Interventions in Time of Crisis

by Alan McFarlane, Lead Coach, Timoney Leadership Institute

Andreas von der Heydt, Director of Talent Acquisition Amazon, recently published an article on Linked-In outlining his Top-Ten leadership interventions in time of crisis.  In my response to it, I added a further dimension that builds on his overview – help leaders be aware how their fundamental human characteristics can either help or hinder them in translating his suggestions into consistent and effective practice.

We’re all different and being very clear about how we behave can enable us to see where we will naturally do one type of intervention well or the ones we risk, either, not doing well or not at all!  As you will see, it would take a Superman or Superwoman to cover all the bases of behaviours ideally required, so we need great awareness how, tactically, we can close our personal leadership gap!

The basis for my descriptions of human characteristics is founded on the B5-PLUS model and tool of Human Content a.s, which we use with all participants in the Advanced Leadership Program of Timoney Leadership Institute.  Firstly, we describe the helpers and hindrances in normal language for a general readership.  In addition, we include specific B5-PLUS references (for example I> and <V), for any reader who has already done their B5-PLUS Assessment in order to help compare their own profile with the hypothesised ideal for each of the interventions.

So, taking each of Andreas’ strategies and descriptors in the numbered paragraphs below, in turn, I highlight the likely helpers and hindrances of human characteristics relating to each one:

  1. Get the Facts Right

Required is a very comprehensive situation analysis as a very first step. As a leader, and more than ever, you need to deep dive to better understand the situation at hand and what you´re potentially up against. Rely on facts and figures. Don´t make assumptions and don´t jump to premature conclusions without hard data. Take charge of your thoughts and don´t let emotions get the better of you.

Helped by someone naturally fact-focused with a tendency to analyse fully (<II, V> Complexity)

Hindered by someone more concerned for others’ well-being and feelings (II>)

  1. Have a Strategy and Plan in Place

And admit that it might be liquid as things could be changing frequently. Extreme challenges and crisis situations are best faced with a cohesive, decisive, and consistent strategy and closely aligned action steps. Be honest to yourself, and ask “What is the worst that could happen?” This will make you face the reality of the situation and help you plan ahead accordingly. Anticipation is a crucial element.

Helped by an openness to explore alternatives, possibly quite radical, with a degree of planful-ness but still staying flexible to respond to unexpected development (V>, <<III>)

Hindered by a natural conservatism to change and stubbornness that highly structured people can manifest (<V, III>)

  1. Implement thoughtful, impactful, and decisive Actions

Do whatever it takes to address and resolve the crisis. Avoid any risk-taking measures. Safety of everyone has to come first. Install clear procedures and mechanisms to be able of documenting and following through. Audit constantly and adjust if necessary.

Helped by a high vigilance coupled with a pragmatic mindset, concern for people and high energy for planning and tracking (<IV Vigilance, <II>, III>)

Hindered by a tendency to procrastinate, over-analyse or being too laid back (<<IV, V>> Complexity, IV>>, Reflection>)

  1. Innovate and Experiment

Besides implementing more general actions and procedures, ensure that there is room that people are empowered to test and experiment by thinking outside of the box and being able to potentially come up with unexpected and more effective solutions.

Helped by a natural source or champion of bold ideas with high cognitive ability to evaluate quickly and accurately for effective implementation (V>, g>)

Hindered by a preference to adhereto the status quo and impose inflexible structures (<V, III>)

  1. Be Empathetic and Positive

It´s everyone´s responsibility to take concerns of others seriously. More so during turbulent and highly unstable times. Express your understanding, show empathy, ask for comments, ideas, and refer back to your strategy and plan. Exhibit an overall positive attitude without downplaying any concerns or challenges. 

Helped by a genuine and deep concern for others, legitimising their feelings and providing understanding support as well as a degree of natural and uplifting enthusiasm (II>, <IV>)

Hindered by a single-minded focus on the task, pushed powerfully without consultation (<II, I>)

  1. Create a safe Environment

Physically (by taking all required precautions), and equally important, also emotionally and psychologically. It´s crucial to establish and maintain an atmosphere of trust. People should be encouraged to come forward to speak up and tell the truth. Only then critical information can be shared and discussed.

Helped by a combination of vigilance and compliance orientation while creating a forum to share worries and fears (<IV Vigilance, III>, II> Collaboration)

Hindered by a tendency to be flexible, allow disorder and challenge rules (<III)

  1. Over-communicate

Regularly, transparently, and with consistent messages. Inform about latest updates in a transparent, mindful, and non-confusing manner. Manage expectations. You need to be able to convey the seriousness and the potential impact of the crisis without creating panic.

Helped by being outwardly focused in energy, visible, accessible and balancing more challenging facts with a sensitive delivery (I>, <<II>).   

Hindered by a tendency to withdraw and worry or dilute the essence of the harder-to-hear message (<I, II>)

  1. Collaborate

Great things are happening when we work together by leveraging experience, know-how, and resources across borders and other boundaries. Crisis times are an opportunity to knock down walls and antiquated thinking in silos. It´s not a time for single fighters.

Helped by a natural concern to establish and maintain social harmony leading to a highly collaborative approach (II>)

Hindered by natural tendency to beself-centred driver of own agenda and interests (<<II)

  1. Be prepared

The next similar challenge will come. It´s not so much a question of “if”, but rather of “when?” By then we should have a comprehensive crisis strategy and action plan in place. Maybe you set up a permanent crisis task force, etc. if not already done? We have to even go a step further and develop a “crisis-ready culture.” An environment which enables and empowers leaders and other stakeholders to anticipate potentially dangerous situations and to step up during situations of crisis, make decisive and speedy decisions, and have all relevant backing required to be highly effective.

Helped by natural vigilance and thoroughness in planning (<IV Vigilance, III>)

Hindered by a tendency to be less concerned with or underestimate the potential gravity of risks (<III, IV>)

  1. Exercise Methods of Shared Leadership

The concept of shared leadership which has multiple advantages over teams that take a more traditional approach by relying on a single leader is especially powerful in demanding and ambiguous situations. The combination of talents and interests of several individuals will likely increase success, because greater resources are being devoted to the leadership function.

Helped by a preference for collaboration, natural tolerance of ambiguity and openness to have other different characters present, inviting their contribution (II>, <III, V>)

Hindered by need to draw attention to self and dominate proceeding promoting own viewpoint (I>>)

Conclusion

All of these helpers and hindrances are nuances of human characteristics that can be identified accurately and then taken into account as a leader leads through times of crisis.  The key enabler for a leader is to acknowledge, embrace and exploit their helpers while having a tactical response to deal with potential hindrances, like partnering with someone more naturally suited to make the intervention in question. The above information has formed the basis of several conversations I’ve had during these recent days to help leaders be as effective as possible during this crisis, recognising that each role, function and sector is being affected in different ways and that there is not a one-size-fits-all response, more a tailor-made approach that helps each leader be as effective as possible in their particular circumstances. It has been highly appreciated by them – we also cover key aspects of managing employee’s emotional reaction to significant change.  

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