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VIEWPOINT: IN CRISES Four things good leaders do

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A few years ago, when a huge snowstorm hit a city in New Jersey, a local mayor took to the streets, shovel in hand, and helped workers clear paths. He rescued snowbound vehicles and even delivered nappies to a housebound mother. He was also savvy enough to tweet eyewitness observations to over a million Twitter followers.

While that may sound a bit like a publicity stunt, the fact remains that he contributed meaningfully with a quick and practical solution for the common good, while setting a good example for others. And when in crisis, people are reassured and inspired by leaders in action. In an article in the Harvard Business Review, leadership consultant John Baldoni offers a few fundamental responses for leaders in times of crises:

  • Assess the situation in full. Often, at the sound of crisis, everyone starts talking (or worse – tweeting) at once. But quick, opinionated reactions are often unconstructive. Checking facts and context is essential in creating order from chaos. Delegate tasks and then meet shortly to brainstorm. What happened? Who’s responsible? What resources do you have? What do you need? How will you get it?
  • Act swiftly, not hurriedly. Particularly in an age where news travels so fast, it’s crucial that leaders are prompt in responding to disaster. However, that doesn’t mean you should act hurriedly. Nervous energy only spreads panic and anxiety. Rather act with deliberation and be calm while you’re quick.
  • Handle expectations. It’s the leader’s job to estimate the size and scope of the crisis. While no one wants to cause undue alarm, it’s important to communicate the magnitude of the situation, so that people can take sensible measures and prepare themselves logistically and emotionally, if need be.
  • Offer perspective. In The Go Point, a thought-provoking study on decision-making, Michael Useem relates how the team leader in mountaineering expeditions often remains at base camp instead of hiking to the summit. If disaster falls, he can then direct a response with the view of one who can see the mountain as a whole and what conditions affect the team.

John Baldoni concludes: ‘The measure of a leader is often tested during a crisis. And those leaders who can engage directly, but still maintain their sense of perspective, are the ones [who] will help [an] organisation survive.’

Author: Brett Tromp CA(SA) is CFO of Discovery Health