Tackle crisis head-on with tough leadership | Sunday Observer

Tackle crisis head-on with tough leadership

3 September, 2023

There is no handy manual out there that can guide a leader through a crisis. This is because while there can be certain protocols in place that prevent a crisis from happening, each new crisis is unique in its own way, with its own problems and quirks and will need a different approach from the one used before.

Very often, the unpredictable nature of crises means that leaders have no time to prepare. It is very much a do or be destroyed situation. There is also no telling how long a crisis will take to blow over. The period can range from a day or two to over a few years.

During a crisis, everybody looks to a leader for the next step or for reassurance. If a leader projects fear and unease, that unease transmits to everyone else, much like a contagious disease.

This is why it is absolutely necessary for leaders to look like they are masters of the situation. Employees need someone they can rely on, not someone they need to reassure. But confidence is not the only thing leaders need to display. Honesty is key as well.

While the urge to state that ‘everything is going to be fine’ is going to be overwhelming, it is important for leaders to be realistic. They need to tread a fine balance when stating the magnitude of a situation.

Unpredictable environment

Leadership is not about what the leader is made of, but what the leader demonstrates in day-to-day action. It is about how he or she builds the confidence of everyone else in tough environments that are almost impossible to navigate.

Leaders are responsible for the big structures that serve as the cornerstones of confidence, and for the human touches that shape a positive emotional climate to inspire and motivate people.

Confidence alone worked in the old environment and we all benefitted by practising it. But times have changed demanding finer, more aggressive and deeper inner thoughts and skills to stay ahead of the game.

Consider the level and nature of competition and challenges today. They are unpredictable, fierce, dirty and cut-throat. So it’s not the same conditions to play the game in. Continue to nurture the skills you have been depending on previously, after all they have taken you this far. But think of new skills needed to effectively deal with the changes.

A sense of bravery gives you the ability to confront these changed situations better. “Physical bravery” is seen through body language, while “moral bravery” is not. It’s the ability to act rightly in the face of popular opposition. And both are equally important – one in isolation has very little effect.

Crisis will never end

Battle after battle is the reality of the business world - when will we see the end of discouraging news and negative developments? - Never? Defeatism is a natural feeling even when winning today, as the future is uncertain.

Leaders encounter harsh realities but can never show less than sheer bravery and optimism in the eyes of followers. Leader needs to project bravery for the team to share the same feeling when approaching more aggressive battles for success.

A leader arguably should be quite an actor. Changing moods, balancing emotions and sending positive signals to the team is a fundamental requirement to build a sense of hope and confidence. This process has a reciprocal effect – so it helps the leader too, to stay on course.

Perhaps the leadership trait most admired by followers is bravery in any situation. Followers like to see leaders thinking big and showing courage. This is a leadership trait most entrepreneurs have in spades.

Bravery is infectious and inspirational – and works. Our history teaches us many real examples of bravery. So it’s inherent to us but how many of us use this trait to add something to life.

In an immediate crisis, a work environment can very quickly devolve into chaos because of all the emotions running high, with stress and fear being at the forefront. It is imperative for a leader to take control and stop the panic from spreading.

In fact, this is often the first thing a leader has to do when news of a crisis breaks. This might involve quickly delegating tasks or simply bringing a room to order. Either way, it is only possible to begin a crisis action plan if everyone involved is focused and determined to complete the task on hand.

At the end of the day, leadership is about having the guts to make tough decisions and making them work through people. If someone is afraid to make and commit to decisions, all of the communication and empowerment in the world won’t make a difference.

When a crisis occurs, don’t ignore it or avoid it. Instead, tackle it head on, and use it as a stepping stone to enact change. A crisis is always an opportunity to acknowledge responsibility, take ownership and do better.