“These are all things that can be coached. There’s no substitute for practice. The more you can practice it, the more it becomes second-nature during a crisis”
Dr Sandra Bell, CEO and Founder of the Business Resilience Company, talks to Jeremy Swinfen Green about managing and leading an organisation through a crisis.
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Ultimately, organisational leaders are responsible for handling a major organisational crisis like the pandemic. But how can the leadership team be empowered to be more effective in this?
So, being a crisis leader, so managing, leading your organisation through this type of crisis is all about making sure that you come out the other end in a much better state than before you went in. So that’s about learning from what happens.
That’s about changing the organisation, grabbing every opportunity that’s in there, minimising every sort of negative effect that can come in. And that requires you to actually really understand what’s happening to the organisation, make fast decisions, make strategic decisions, and make sure that you can move the organisation forward.
Now that requires not just skill, it also requires will and it also requires grit to see this thing through. Now not all of those things can be taught. There are certain things that you can teach. So for example, the leadership style is really important.
So the style is how you influence as a leader people to follow you and to do what you want voluntarily. And that style really depends, in a crisis situation, on the culture in the organisation and also whether it’s an internal or an external crisis.
So for example, if you’re into an elitist culture and you’ve got an internal issue, then what you really want is an expert, an expert leader who can lead people and has already got the respect of the internal people.
But if you are in, say, an ad hocracy, a very loose clan type environment, or indeed you’ve got a hierarchy and it’s outside. The crisis is out there. Like, for example, sort of the COVID-19, then what you need there is a transformational leader. You need the leader to be able to create a vision of the goal of where you want to be post-pandemic in this case.
So what will the organisation look for? Because you need that to get everyone following and working together behind it. So you need elements of charisma, which is about your personal attributes, but you also need skill. You need both leadership and management skills.
Because not only do you need to be able to make decisions, tough decisions under a stressful situation, you also need to be able to pull together multidisciplinary teams and indeed teams of teams, both inside the organisation and outside the organisation, and make them work towards your will, to your vision, and move together.
So it’s a mixture. How do you prepare them? So you prepare them, their skills, like the style and the skills you can learn and you can teach, but the behaviours and the attributes, the personal attributes that people have to pull on, are all things that can be coached.
And there’s no substitute for practise. My company, we work a lot with boards of organisations doing just that with them, coaching them using executive coaching practises to get those behaviours, to learn. So it almost comes like a muscle memory.
I’m in this situation, I need to exude this type of style. Do I stand up? Am I confident? And am I directive? When do I need to step back? When do I need to be more coaching? And that sort of thing you can practise. And it’s more– the more you can practise it the more that it becomes second nature in a crisis.