Leadership in times of Crisis
Updated: Jun 1
In our work with clients, almost every successful transformation or change management boils down to three important factors – Visibility, Control and Support. They are the most critical factors for any company in any times, and especially during crisis or periods of great change and instability. I would consider the current period to be one of those times.
Why do I say they are the most important? If you ever talked to a scriptwriter or storyteller, the secrets to a good thriller or horror story lies somewhere in this three words - Visibility, Control and Support. Similarly, the best roller coaster designers in the world would also tell you that this three factors is the key to a successful roller coaster ride.
In a horror movie, the scariest part of the show is often right before the monster appears. In a roller coaster ride, it is that part right before the peak, where you see no more tracks in front of you. Employees are most worried when they don't have clarity about the business directions, the company's future and consequently their future.
When the monster reveals itself, that very moment you might get a rude shock but all the foreboding is gone. When the roller coaster passes the peak and start rolling down, suddenly it ain't that hair-raising anymore.
In a show, it is more frightening when the protagonist is not in control of everything such as holding the fort until dawn breaks and suddenly realising that the zombies are not afraid of sunlight. On the roller coaster, the changes in speed along the whole ride is engineered precisely to create the illusion of the loss of control. Some even go to the extent to stop entirely when the ride is upside down.
In a business, when staffs are not empowered to do what they need to, it can be disconcerting. However, decentralising control means that leaders has to learn to let go. This requires that employees be adequately trained to do so. At times, you have to lose some control to gain more.
"When I grip the wheel too tight, I find I lose control" - Steve Rapson
It is more unnerving when the protagonist has to go into a battle or faces the monsters with empty-handed and with no back-up, as compared to going in well-prepared, with the support with a group of team-mates with different specialties. Likewise, certain pillars were added intentionally and strategically to achieve the effect of a loss in support where pillars weren't added.
"Anything is possible when you have the right people there to support you" -Misty Copeland
During such times of crisis, a good leader looks to provide visibility, control and support to their team. What are some of the ways to do this?
Visibility - Communicate clearly to everyone the situation at hand and the steps that are being taken to address the situation as well as clarify if long term strategic directions has changed. Even if it is bad news, it is important to break it and highlight the steps taken to mitigate or overcome it. Organise a (virtual) town hall to ensure everyone is aware and allow for questions and answers to provide greater clarity and visibility.
Control - Empower your staff to do what is required, especially in this pandemic situation where everybody is working remotely from home. Provide them with the control they need to do their job. Trust them to do the right thing. Let them tell you what they intend to do and provide some guidance and feedback, instead of telling them what to do. Sometimes, you have to lose some control to gain control.
Support - Be available to offer assistance and support. Ensure your staff have access to you. This can be done via daily or weekly check-in sessions where everyone and especially you ask everyone what help they need from you and the team to accomplish their work. This is especially when everyone is now isolated from one another, working from home. At times, the act of being available is all the support that is needed.
Written by Kok How Lee, founder of KeyHole Insights. Kok How is an economist, strategist and consultant with over 15 years of experience in both the public and private sector.
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