Have you ever been an Ostrich Leader?

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Mark Evenden of Developing People Ltd., often is intrigued by senior leaders in organisations who remain silent when even the uninitiated can see that the situation desperately needs them to take a lead and speak out. This is sometimes referred to as ostrich style leadership after the widespread (but untrue) belief that ostriches bury their heads in the sand when faced with danger.

I am not sure whether it is because they think that if they say and do nothing that they will be less responsible for what happens, or whether it is a product of indecision or possibly even fear. As with all animals, we humans are very instinctive and when faced with a crisis we tend to produce a fight or flight response.

Freezing up under pressure is a manifestation of the fright response, and it is precisely at these crucial times that we need leaders to fill that void and provide clarity and direction to enable others to override their instincts. Sadly, I believe too many leaders don't like to take this responsibility.

I can remember many years ago when it was announced that the business I worked for was to be closed down. This was a massive shock for the employees, their families, and the local community. Many of our staff had never had another job, some had sons and daughters who worked there too, and for them their whole world was collapsing around them.

However, it was clear to me that I had a vital role to play amongst this chaos. In the short term we had customers who had placed orders with us and their business relied on us fulfilling these orders. In addition, all of our staff still had an important future, albeit a new and different one, perhaps working for a different organisation, working for themselves, or taking the option of early retirement. It was my leadership responsibility to help our staff to see a positive future for themselves and to enable them to realise it.

The results of all this speak for themselves. Over 75 percent of redundant staff (excluding those who took early retirement) had found new employment within three months of the site closing. In addition, we did not lose any customers or have any service or production issues during this period, which was a great credit to all the staff who worked there.

For me this was an important lesson to learn early in my career. Leadership is not a position, but an act of taking responsibility for a situation - especially a tough one.

This article originally appeared on our sister Web site, TrainingZone.co.uk.

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