It is only July, and it seems as if this entire year has been a crisis. First, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) became aware of COVID-19 in January, with cases reported throughout the U.S. in February (Washington Post). Stock markets throughout the world began to react, and in late February, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down over 12% in one week. Then, it got worse. On March 7th, stocks fell over 7% and trading was temporarily halted.
Then, schools and universities began to close, “social distancing” started, “stay at home orders” began to be implemented, and one of the strongest economies in history collapsed. Furloughs and layoffs were rampant, and the unemployment rate went from a historic low of under 4% to over 15% in only two months. Our economy seemed to be in a free fall, and panic set in (Pew Research Center).
Over the next several months, “essential businesses” operated more efficiently and government leaders began to devise plans to slowly “re-open” more businesses in an effort to return to some “normalcy.” Then, on May 25th, George Floyd was killed while being arrested in Minneapolis. Within days, protests began to spread in cities, both large and small, throughout the entire country. Marches, protests, and unrest occurred most everywhere throughout the U.S. (CNN). Now in June, more and more people are saying, “Can’t we just get back to normal?”
All of these crises have been especially difficult for leaders of organizations. Whether it is a Fortune 100 corporation, a small family-owned business, or a non-profit organization, many of the challenges facing leaders are quite similar. What should we do now? When can we begin to work as we did last year? Who do we call back to work? Who should return to our actual workplace? How do we best serve our customers/stakeholders? These are important questions, but they miss one critical issue – the next crisis.
Leaders need to understand today’s crisis, whatever that is, will pass and then another crisis will arise. All of us need to understand that we now live in a world that is changing so quickly, and is so interconnected, that we cannot avoid some type of crisis for any extended period of time. Therefore, leaders must become prepared for continuous crisis management and leadership. So, what does this mean?
Today, every organization must always be prepared to face a crisis – whatever it is and whenever it occurs. But, how can organizations become “crisis ready?” It begins with the senior leadership and then moves to every member of the organization.
Each member of the senior leadership team must understand that everyone in the organization is looking to him or her for guidance. Therefore, they must be prepared and that requires continual readiness and a higher level of stamina. Each leader must take care of themselves, both physically and mentally. Periods of “rest” or “downtimes” will occur more infrequently – if at all. Undertake a lifestyle that promotes a higher level of healthiness (Hatami, H., Sjatil, P. E., and Sneader, K. McKinsey, 2020).
Next, enhance the level of communication throughout the organization. Remember, one of the 4 Pillars of exceptional leadership is communication. In addition, and this is critical, leaders must be prepared to admit when they “don’t know what is going to happen” or that they “don’t currently have all of the answers.” And these enhanced communications must be “two-way” since collaboration is also more crucial.
At the same time, leaders must constantly utilize and enhance their “strategic analysis and agility” capability. As detailed in our May Newsletter article, Leadership in Times of Crisis, this is also one of the 4 Pillars of exceptional leadership. Specifically, this is the ability to “consistently identify and analyze crucial data, events, etc. while effectively adjusting to unexpected events in order to excel in a situation that ‘you have never seen before’.” In addition, leaders who excel in this capability also begin to adopt a greater level of “strategic foresight,” that is, the ability to “recognize things/event before others.” In fact, leaders with the highest levels of strategic analysis and agility seem to be able to “predict the future.”
Next, you must identify persons who also possess the ability to excel during crises. These are the people that you need throughout your organization. And not just in other leadership roles, but in all positions. Once your organization is filled with team members (employees) who possess this ability, a new crisis becomes simply “another challenge that we’re prepared to face and overcome.” In fact, it is common to hear these employees say, “Yeah, we kind of expected this” when a new crisis occurs.
E.A.S.I.-Consult® has been identifying and developing exceptional leaders – and non-leader employees – for over 20 years. We recognize that crises will no longer be occasional events, but rather are becoming more continuous. In fact, some are beginning to wonder if they should be called “crises” any longer, since unexpected and very challenging events are now occurring most all of the time.
However, by identifying people with the appropriate capabilities and creating a culture of “continuous adaptability” and agility, along with strategic foresight and organization-wide two-way communication, any size organization can prosper in the new world of “continuous crises.”
About the Author
Joseph Gier, Ph.D. is Vice President – Consulting Services at E.A.S.I-Consult® and is a licensed Psychologist. E.A.S.I-Consult works with Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and mid-sized organizations to provide customized Talent Management solutions. Utilizing scientific approaches, E.A.S.I-Consult provides superior results to Business – Driven by Science. Our specialties include leadership and leadership potential assessment, online employment assessment, customized skills assessment, competency modeling, leadership development, executive coaching, 360-degree feedback, online structured interviews, and EEO hiring compliance. The company is a leader in the field of providing accurate information about people.