How to lead in a crisis

The disruptive effect of the coronavirus has meant that many organizations are now in unchartered territory. As a consequence, the pressure is mounting on leaders to light their torches and lead the way.

© Leaders League

The disruptive effect of the coronavirus has meant that many organizations are now in unchartered territory. As a consequence, the pressure is mounting on leaders to light their torches and lead the way.


However, as Stanley McChrystal and Chris Fussell of  leadership development specialists The McChrystal Group highlighted in a recent New York Times article, “if history shows us one thing, it is that our greatest leaders emerge from the darkest moments”.


McChrystal and Fussell argue that, to begin with, leaders must be:
 

  •  visible with their plans

 

  •  honest with their words

 

  • adaptable with their actions.

 

Leaders must, at the same time, maintain compassion for the situation and the impact it is having on their team.


McChrystal, who is a former army general and the founder of the McChrystal Group, and Fussell, who is a former Navy Seal and the president of the McChrystal Group, say that  during a crisis, there is often an urge to “simply wait it out”. But they add that  today’s leaders must not give in to this instinct.


“We’re facing a perfect storm of economic downturn, social isolation and a fast-spreading pandemic,” they say. “The answer to this problem will not suddenly reveal itself; leaders must create solutions. Any leaders who are not already on a war footing and preparing to fundamentally change their organizations for the foreseeable future must start moving today.”


At this time, there are four key characteristics of effective leadership, according to McChrystal and Fussell:
 

1. Don’t hunker down. The McChrystal Group highlighted the example of the Royal Navy saying that, at the height of the Royal Navy’s dominance, “British naval officers, impressive in ornate uniforms, were expected to stand erect on the ship’s decks during battles, clearly exposed to enemy fire.” McChrystal and Fussell added: “It was not that little value was placed on their lives. Rather, ever greater value was placed on their leadership. Their job was to be visible to their sailors, and show calm amid the chaos. Today’s leaders must also stand and be visible to their organizations, their communities, and their families.
 

2. Show candor, but also demand it from the leaders below you. “In combat, when things look bad, the front-line troops always know it before the leadership. Denying reality makes your people assume you’re either lying or out of touch. Organizations can handle bad news and tough times if they feel their leaders are focused on solving the issues at hand.” It is vital that today’s leaders are honest with their people to a level that will and should feel uncomfortable.

 

3. “Give up more authority than feels natural”. McChrystal and Fussell say fighting through complexity requires quick and informed action at the edge. “This is dependent upon fast, transparent and inclusive communication. Organizations will need teammates making independent decisions close to the point of action, not waiting for direction. It’s tempting in times of crisis to grab the reins and yank back, but this will be more disruptive than it is helpful.”

 

4. “Be more compassionate than you think you need to be”. As your team increasingly works remotely, the “loss of personal interactions will quickly sink in”, McChrystal and Fussell say. “It will be easy for leaders to overlook or undervalue the fear and stress their people are feeling because of this isolation. All of us learn by watching our teammates, and we gain confidence through informal feedback from our colleagues or bosses. Your organization has lost that person-to-person contact. You must immediately take your culture online, and learn to reinforce camaraderie, esteem, and compassion, via digital platforms.”

 

To read The McChrystal Group article in the New York Times, click here 

interview

Accenture's CEO and CFO interview by Leaders League Group

About us

Download