Leading in Crisis

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Recently I had the opportunity to participate in the S. Dale High Center for Family Business’s session on Leading in Crisis. The session opened with me presenting an “Economic Update – Defining the New Normal.” I shared a visual update on where we are, how we got here, and how long will we stay here. The session created numerous questions as we dialogued about what this New Normal means for the business leaders who were present in the room. If you would like my hand-out material, please contact me.

The heart of the morning session featured Mike McGrann who presented on the lessons learned from Apollo 13. This was a lively and entertaining discussion. Mike showed video clips from the Apollo 13 disaster and we discussed the many positive lessons to learn from this crisis.
The five questions we focused on were:
1.            Are you honest about the brutal facts? Are you willing to face them? This is a key question that Jim Collins in Good to Great spends considerable time discussing. He said that great leaders embrace the Stockdale Paradox. It’s the ability to remain resolutely faithful that you will prevail, while at the same time confronting the brutal facts of a situation.
2.            Can you let go of the need to be right? Convergent vs. Divergent Issues. Leaders often think they need to know the right answer all the time and believe there is only one way (Convergent). However, your people often have good ideas and most problems have multiple solutions (Divergent).  Are you as a leader creating a participatory leadership culture?
3.            Are you willing to conduct “Constructive Post Mortems” that get to the real cause? Great leaders need to think systematically and have a wide angle lens to allow truthful dialogue within teams to determine what went wrong and what changes can be made for the future.
4.            Where is the unique opportunity within the crisis? Seldom is the answer a quick fix. Leaders can spend their time in three areas:
A.   Managing the present.
B.   Selectively forgetting the past.
C.   Creating the future.
5.            Have you clarified your values and your vision? “You can’t make it through a storm without a compass.” Leaders need to have values and transparency. They need a moral compass to keep them focused on what is important. In Apollo 13, that key value was to return the astronauts home. Failure was not an option.
We closed the session with the great quote from The Entrepreneurial Mindset:
Your most important job as a leader is not to find opportunities or identify critical competitive insights, but to create an organization that does these things for you as a matter of course. You will have succeeded when everyone in the organization takes it for granted that business success is about a continual search for new opportunities, a continual letting go of less productive practices, and a growing obligation to capture those opportunities and make them happen.


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