Crises are replete with volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA), and the current pandemic is a testament of that. It requires executives to both lead and manage effectively. Addressing the most urgent needs is the work of management: the health and safety of employees and customers, as well as suppliers and partners; financial and cashflow management; priority setting and the allocation of resources.
However, navigating the crisis and guiding people through to the best possible outcomes is the work of leadership. You need to be anticipative and be ready to respond. Sometimes with good judgement. Sometimes with intuition. Preferably both, but always with the objective to protect and serve those who look to you for leadership in times like these.
Are You Leading Through the Crisis…
or Managing the Response?
In times of crisis, it is best to lead and leave the managing to others. However, leading through crises can be particularly challenging and requires competence or qualities that call for soft skills and emotional intelligence (EQ). These are qualities not usually trained for, but certainly can be learned.
In this regard, I have found the Crisis Leadership Competency Model, produced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to be particularly helpful. It lays out nine competencies that were determined to be the most critical for leaders in a crisis response situation.
The CDC came up with the competency model in 2009 to help define optimal performance of its leaders during public health emergencies, as distinct from traditional or generic leadership competencies.
The framework is relevant for all those in leadership positions, whether in public administration or business. And it can serve as a training and development needs assessment, as well as guide the recruitment and selection of candidates for leadership positions.
Communicates during times of crisis in a timely, clear, accurate, and truthful manner.
- Communicates effectively and concisely with internal and external audiences in the face of limited, unknown, stressful, and negative situations.
- Expresses the crisis situation, mission, expectations for response team members and decisions in clear and compelling terms appropriate for the target audience.
- Initiates communication using vertical and horizontal channels of communication to keep leadership, peers and subordinates informed.
Activates a network of partners that spans organizational domains and multi-jurisdictional agencies and meets the immediate (and changing) needs of the response.
- Interacts effectively with officials, leadership, subordinates and peers from different agencies and organizations to engage in cross-functional activities, share information, and facilitate collaboration across organizational domains.
- Uses influence and diplomacy skills to reach a goal, to build consensus, or to resolve a conflict.
- Links knowledge of networks to successfully accomplish mission objectives.
3. COURAGE AND PERSEVERANCE
Displays strength, confidence and persistence when faced with danger, uncertainty, or intimidation.
- Takes appropriate risks and accepts responsibility for the outcome.
- Addresses resistance quickly, rationally, and fairly with due consideration.
- Perseveres under difficult circumstances.
- Displays steadfast adherence to public health priorities despite hardship or obstruction.
Demonstrates expertise and trustworthiness in the midst of crisis; earns the confidence and respect of senior leaders, peers and subordinates.
- Demonstrates knowledge and experience in their area of expertise.
- Exhibits humility; recognizes personal strengths and weaknesses; looks to others for guidance on topics outside of personal expertise; admits to mistakes and takes corrective action.
- Discerns the appropriate information to share, and when to engage others in conversations, decisions and actions.
- Acts in accordance with public health ethics, public health law, and organizational values for the common good of those responding to and impacted by the crisis.
Makes critical, timely decisions when faced with ambiguous information about the disaster and response efforts.
- Gathers facts, solicits input, makes reasonable and appropriate assumptions, consults with critical stakeholders, and weighs the benefits and risks in order to make and execute decisions quickly with incomplete or limited information.
- Makes decisions rapidly; based on prior experience, intuition, and knowledge of established protocols.
- Applies appropriate decision-making processes – systematic problem solving verses experience / intuitively derived — based on the conditions and context of the emergency response situation.
- Perceives and anticipates the impact and implications of decisions.
- Assesses and adjusts decisions and actions in response to changing information.
6. EMOTIONAL EFFECTIVENESS
Recognizes the impact crisis has on one’s self and others, and promotes positive interactions under emergency response conditions.
- Demonstrates self-awareness and responds constructively to problems and difficult interactions.
- Recognizes survival instincts and signs of stress, demonstrates mental discipline, and maintains control.
- Considers and responds to the needs, feelings, and capabilities of team members, stakeholders and individuals impacted by the crisis.
- Promotes an environment of safety, connectedness, and hope.
7. INTEGRATIVE THINKING
Identifies what is critically important during an emergency and uses the information to strategically lead, balance priorities, and anticipate consequences.
- Synthesizes information into a coherent plan with a clear, yet flexible, strategy and priorities demonstrated through operations, tactics, and logistics.
- Re-adjusts objectives based on changing priorities to align capacity and create desired results.
- Proactively assesses and addresses both day-to-day and long-term problems and opportunities.
- Anticipates probable and possible events; develops innovative and adaptive solutions to current and potential crisis situations.
8. SITUATIONAL AWARENESS
Identifies, processes, and comprehends the critical elements of an emergency with public health consequences.
- Compiles a plausible picture of the situation that is compatible with the known facts and potential outcomes.
- Acquires, represents, interprets, and utilizes relevant information in order to make sense of current events, to anticipate future developments, and to make intelligent decisions.
- Demonstrates awareness of environment and activities; stays abreast of the mission status; continually assesses and reassesses the situation.
9. TEAM LEADERSHIP
Leads, inspires, motivates, and guides emergency response team members in a safe and effective manner.
- Models actions and behaviors that inspire and motivate positive responses from team members during a crisis.
- Takes initiative to identify key cross-functional team personnel needed; obtains required resources and information so team members may effectively respond to the crisis.
- Recognizes, acknowledges and addresses the impact of stress on their team during a crisis and makes themselves available and visible to the team when responding to the event.
- Delegates roles, responsibilities, and decisions appropriately; shares responsibility, accountability, and recognition; gives guidance, and promotes autonomy for others to make decisions within guidelines during the crisis.
- Manages and resolves disputes and disagreements among team members in a positive and constructive manner.
- Demonstrates flexibility when confronted with deviations from standard procedures, and monitors changes in the performance of other team members.
- Develops, communicates, and monitors expectations for team performance.