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Leading Out of Crisis

Presented by: Randy Disharoon

In his comprehensive book, “Leadership: Theory and Practice,” Peter Northouse highlights a certain style of leadership needed in times of uncertainty where external forces foundationally shake our markets and standard modes of work: “[Adaptive leadership] focuses primarily on how leaders help others do the work they need to do, in order to adapt to the challenges they face. Generally, adaptive leadership is concerned with how people change and adjust to new circumstances.” How have you adapted your leadership style to accommodate the crisis we have all endured? More critically, what is your plan to lead in the next 3-6 months?

While no one would say out loud, “I am glad this pandemic happened,” many of us who aim to be positive, creative and solution-oriented relish the experience gained in order to challenge our ability to thrive in future times of crisis and to stretch our canvas. Ralph A. Gigliotti offers the upside view in his article, “Looking Beyond COVID-19: Crisis Leadership Implications for Chairs” [in The Department Chair], : “Opportunity, innovation and reinvention can be found in the aftermath of a crisis.” Our capacity to handle future crises bears greatly on the lessons we learned in previous crises. As we reflect on the past six months and turn our eyes to the next six months, I offer for your consideration three specific actions you can take to lead yourself, your team and your company out of this crisis.

  1. Conduct a Postmortem

You have chalked up a few lessons learned. Maybe you even discovered new, more efficient ways to get things done. Areas of weakness that may have been hidden during the normal course of business have been exposed. Certain personnel have risen to the challenge while others have struggled to adapt. Training and development may have revealed areas for growth or shone a spotlight on emerging leaders. Take an inventory of your resources, systems and processes that demonstrated sustainability and those that did not.

  1. Reinvent Your Strategic Planning

Incorporate your learnings from your postmortem into your strategic planning. Accentuate your strengths. Consider alternatives to your approach to the market. Identify suppliers who performed well and were responsive to your operational needs. Eliminate waste in your systems and processes. Establish a think tank mentality that challenges every aspect of your business model. Develop ambitious plans to attack the market in new and creative ways.

  1. Lead with Quiet Confidence

People watch and react to their leaders’ responses to crises. Instilling a culture of trust in your ability to navigate through the next six months is directly dependent on the level of thinking, planning, and effort you put into your sphere of responsibility. Knowing the details of what works, what doesn’t, who to lean on, when to act and how to tackle the next set of projects all drive that inner confidence that sets your team at ease and allows them to focus on the tasks before them.

By taking these three specific actions, you will hopefully gain a competitive advantage, streamline and accelerate your organization’s capacity for growth and build muscle memory for future endeavors. Crises need never be debilitating, but they should compel us to think more strategically, plan more adaptively and executive more effectively. Finally, we must all continue to be adaptive, for we all know that change is certain.

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