Once again, we are looking at a very uncertain and unsettling future. These are unpredictable times. We face a recession – a crisis in itself. But it comes on the back of the global COVID-19 pandemic, an unprecedented public health crisis and its implications. Just as introducing a coronavirus vaccination seemed to be lessening the healthcare crisis, we saw the war on Ukraine begin. Add to that some questionable decision-making that led to a cost-of-living crisis, frontline workers striking, and natural disasters wreaking havoc. We are undeniably in times of crisis.
What is crisis leadership?
Successful business leaders are praised for their vision and communication skills. Visionary planning is an admirable leadership skill driving an organization toward its goals. However, in times of crisis, a clear vision is less valuable.
Influential leaders must adopt crisis management strategies – reassurance, resilience, clear thinking, and uniting team members. In a crisis, the best leaders need an action plan for holding or containing the situation (according to the Harvard Business Review). Their good communication skills are still crucial in crisis response. They can interpret and convey what’s happening to stakeholders. But instead of looking at a big-picture vision, crisis leaders need to focus on a more short-term response plan.
What are the significant factors in crisis leadership?
Trained soldiers are accustomed to operating under conditions of extreme uncertainty and risk. It is known that not a single mission shall go as per the plan. We know planning is essential, but adapting the plan with new learning is much more critical.
How do soldiers develop this resilient mindset? What kind of leadership style enables them to be so determined? How do they create psychological safety confined in a bunker or trench? How do they tame chaos?
Here are ten attributes of military leader that makes them persevere in facing the odds:
- Fear is contagious: Military leaders, irrespective of rank or service, are trained to distinguish between the hope of success and fear of failure. They, too, have doubts and apprehensions but are aware that anxiety is highly contagious. Their crisis communication needs to negate feelings of unfounded fear.
- Invest in relationships: The investment in building ‘esprit de corps’ during ‘peacetime’ pays rich dividends during the conflict. Each soldier is exceptional and shares a personal bond with their leaders in the chain of command. These relationships improve well-being and are a motivating source.
- Value empathy: “Empathy without sympathy is dangerous; sympathy without empathy is blind.” A leader who sympathizes with his troops in a crisis has killed the warrior in them. Emotional intelligence will help leaders to operate from the cognitive function of Empathy, not the emotional charge of Sympathy.
- Ordinary people, extraordinary results: Seemingly normal people display acts of bravery and astute courage during times of crisis. This is because a military leader knows that every person is a warrior, irrespective of their role, position, or status. The leader allows team members to take that leap of faith and calculated risks.
- Avoid being popular: Popularity is for the masses (think social media followers, for example). Military leaders do not lead random groups of people; they show skilled professionals. In a crisis, your popularity doesn’t matter; your competence does.
- Be honest: Tough times call for authentic communication and straight talk. Military leaders use their communication channels to convey the harsh realities of the immediate future through detailed personal briefings and carefully crafted written orders. They believe in being brief, concise, and to the point, leaving no room for doubt or concern. Clear communication leaves no room for interpretation. This builds trust and leadership credibility.
- Ration thoughts and feelings: The impact of a careless word uttered in a highly emotionally charged scenario can be hazardous. Military leaders are mindful of their personal views and opinions and seldom let them be known to others. They honor the rank and will not sully it with careless and irresponsible behavior.
- Stand for the unit: The military has little respect for individual acts of bravado and heroism. However, it respects those who stand unwavering for their teams and departments. Taking a stand for others first, always, and every time is the only mantra for every military leader.
- Live the present: Military personnel does not know how to quit. They do not get disappointed by past events or potential future crises. They operate from the present moment. They are accustomed to failing since that is the only way they get to succeed. They live the outcomes they visualize, each moment, each day. They never wait for the future. It concerns the present moment and how to wrestle the best out of it.
- Train hard: “The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war.” This adage is drilled into the DNA of every military personnel during training. The training is vigorous, unsettling, and severe, but with a purpose. Every military leader knows that a day in peace wasted is a week of regret in combat.
The army is a time-tested organization that operates in VUCA conditions as a routine. For them, uncertainty is reality. They do not give in to unsolicited information, false misrepresentations, and self-doubt. They have robust processes and values. They follow a common ideology. They consider upholding human values and preserving humanity as their primary mission.
We are now facing a crisis of recession that follows hot on the heels of the COVID-19 crisis. Our future is still being determined. Let us learn from the best leaders in the armed forces, from their spirit of resilience and courage. Let us not fuel conflict by reacting to perceived knowledge rather than fact. Let us not create chaos and conflicts inside our heads. Let us not allow circumstances and conditions to overcome us, our families, and our organizations. Let us allow the warriors in us to emerge. This is the perfect time for that. Each of us owes this to our people and our country.
Contact our knowledgeable team to find out more about effective leadership in crisis.