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Seven Lessons For Leading In A Crisis

by David Brock on February 27th, 2009

Bill George wrote a great article in the Wall Street Journal a couple of days ago: Seven Lessons For Leading In A Crisis. Without going into detail (read the article), the lessons are:

Lesson #1: “Leaders must face reality.” My views on this are: The key issue here is to be willing to look at and tell the whole truth, including how leaders have failed. Until you face reality, your strategies are wishful thinking based on a fictional view of the organization. You won’t solve your problems until you acknowledge what the real problems are.

Lesson #2: “No matter how bad things are, they will get worse.” My views on this are: This is related to Lesson 1. Often, leaders can’t believe things are really that bad. They tend to shoot the messenger or down play the seriousness of the issues. In doing this they never address the real issues or develop the right corrective strategies.

Lesson #3: “Build a mountain of cash, and get to the highest hill.” Undoubtedly, cash is king in troubled times. At the same time, I may differ a little, I believe companies need to invest in building their future in tough times. Investments in improving efficiency and effectiveness are critical. Investments that improve your positioning and maximize the value you bring to your customers are critical. I would say: Cash and liquidity is important, but don’t hoard it unnecessarily, realize that you must continue to make investments in building and improving your business.

Lesson #4: “Get the world off your shoulders.” As Bill highlights in the article, I see executives tending to go into isolation, focusing superhuman efforts on rescuing the organization. Despite what we think, none of us have bid “S’s” painted on our chest. The most effective path to recovery is to engage the creativity, energy, and skills of the whole team in developing and executing solutions to the organization’s challenges.

Lesson #5: “Before asking others to sacrifice, first volunteer yourself.” Haven’t we seen enough of executives protecting themselves, at the expense of everything and everyone else in the organization? Leadership is about setting personal examples. We cannot expect people make sacrifices until they see us sacrificing as well.

Lesson #6: “Never waste a good crisis.” This is great! Crisis can be an important rallying point for driving great change. When things are going well, people tend to be very resistant to change—perpetuating bad processes, practices, products, behaviors. In crisis, people recognize the need to change and rally behind it. Leverage this as an opportunity to improve.

Lesson #7: “Be aggressive in the marketplace.” Organizations tend to do exactly the opposite. Companies tend to retract, they tend to be very cautious and conservative. This is the time to make aggressive moves, reset the rules of competition, re position and better serve your customers.

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