The false alarm heard around the world in Hawaii recently warning of a ballistic missile headed for the island raises multiple questions about whether as a leader you are prepared for a business emergency.
Chances are you have systems in place for a sudden weather disaster, incidents and hazards related to materials, electrical and Internet outages, fire or other threats to normalcy in your company spaces. Likely these are covered in your company’s manual and in the employee orientation.
You have risk assessment plans and know what to do for these possibilities. You comply with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards in your workplace. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, has Ready Business resources kits and workshops available that can help with natural disasters and human-centered emergencies.How you handle a crisis as a leader makes all the difference to your team. #EmergencyPreparedness #leadership Click To Tweet
But what about fiscal and business emergencies—a sudden loss of the biggest client without warning, an incapacitated team member who cannot complete the urgent project on deadline, the ousting of top leadership due to a legal or behavior issue (think Matt Lauer’s departure at NBC), a supplier’s failure to deliver or change in administration that makes your process impossible?
As a leader, you need to be prepared to deliver the messaging to your team on next steps. You need to have scenarios and contingencies rehearsed.
“In a time of crisis, always think first of this: what is the right thing to do? The temptation is to duck and defend. Don’t,” says Gloria Feldt, co-founder and president of Take The Lead.
“Take a moment to align your response with your organization’s core values. If a mistake was made, own it immediately, simultaneously say how you are fixing it, then follow through and make sure people know you did. If a mistake was not made, even more important to message from your core values and state the facts dispassionately rather than being defensive,” Feldt says.
For women leaders brought in to handle crises, this phenomenon is called the glass cliff. A classic 2009 study from researchers at University of Kansas states, “The glass cliff refers to women being more likely to rise to positions of organizational leadership in times of crisis than in times of success, and men being more likely to achieve those positions in prosperous times.”
A more recent 2017 study from researchers at the University of Geneva upholds the theories and reveals that women in corporate leadership positions handle emergencies and crises differently than male leaders, and perhaps better.Women in corporate leadership positions handle emergencies and crises differently than male leaders, and perhaps better. #womenleaders Click To Tweet
“Glass-cliff research shows that female leaders are preferentially selected in a crisis to signal change and not for their leadership qualifications,” according to the study.
“If leaders in our organizations demonstrate empathy, self-awareness, inclusiveness and an egalitarian mindset, we can disassemble the trust crisis within our walls,” writes Carol Vallone Mitchell, Ph. D., author of Breaking Through “Bitch” – How Women Can Shatter Stereotypes and Lead Fearlessly and cofounder of Talent Strategy Partners, in Huffington Post.
Some entrepreneurs use crisis and emergencies to redefine themselves as leaders. Here are strategies and points of view that may help you address the disruptions of an emergency in any form.Some #entrepreneurs use crisis and emergencies to redefine themselves as #leaders. Click To Tweet
Carpe the chaos. This is Leadership Power Tool # 5 created by Feldt of Take The Lead. According to Feldt, “Change creates chaos. Today’s changing gender roles and economic turbulence may feel chaotic and confusing. But chaos also means boundaries become more fluid. That’s when people are open to new ways of thinking, to innovation, and to new roles for women. Carpe the chaos, for in chaos is opportunity.”
Acknowledge the fear and move past it. “Susan Duffy, executive director at Babson College Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leaders, knows this only too well,” writes Patti Fletcher in Entrepreneur. “From the time her company’s warehouse burned down, or when the franchisor for her business closed its headquarters without warning, to when she had to delay an important CWEL program, Duffy has experienced her fair share of unwelcomed and potentially devastating disruption.”
“When the going gets tough, instead of being paralyzed by fear, Duffy adopts a mindset that enables her to be open to fear and use it as a figurative obstacle to overcome. Her process starts “with analyzing risks and trade-offs, followed by capacity planning for fixing what is broken, and finishes with identifying where and when she will need help,” Fletcher writes.
Fear definitely sets in as an automatic response to an emergency.
“When we’re dealing with our worst fears, it’s hard. I call it the 2 a.m. cold sweats, where you think: How am I going to get through this? Every leader knows these moments, and the people in this book experienced those,” writes Nancy Koehn, James E. Robison Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School and co-author of Forged In Crisis, in Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge.
“At times, leading an organization is about an ongoing encounter with one’s own fears and the fears of one’s people. A lot of leaders who take on the amount of responsibility and accountability that goes with being the CEO of a major company will encounter fear and have to figure out how to deal with it,” Koehn writes.
She adds, “This is your moment to step on to the stage and lead from your stronger self, because the world needs you now like it’s never needed you before.”
Once past the fear, leaders in crisis can move forward with clear communication, delegation and a focus on the goal and definitive outcomes.
Model calm behavior with clear communications. “You are the person people will look to for their cues on how to act and create meaning from disruption. Everything you do and say means something. People will forget that your life has also been disrupted,” writes Fletcher.
“Adopting and visibly acting upon a mindset that neutralizes, allows for ebbs and flows, and where you employ data to create a realistic picture of the current state and the road ahead will enable everyone, including yourself, to stay positive as you look for ways to accelerate from tough situations to a new, better reality,” according to Fletcher.
You don’t have to fix it all yourself. “I’ve always been a fixer, or someone who felt uncomfortable addressing a challenge if I didn’t have a solution. This year has shown me that simply acknowledging someone’s challenge–not necessarily solving it–can have a huge impact on how they’re doing and how included they feel at work,” Aubrey Blanche, Atlassian global head of diversity & inclusion told Lydia Dishman at Fast Company.
Empathy and compassion help the whole team. Sasha Chanoff, who is the Founder and Executive Director of RefugePoint and co-author of From Crisis to Calling: Finding Your Moral Center in the Toughest Decisions, tells Forbes, that in interviewing major business leaders dealing with crisis in the writing of the book, “Empathy and compassion emerge as key values that are important to consult when making decisions because they are fundamental to our character.”
Handling emergencies as a leader requires transparency, patience, vision and resilience. “Positive, energizing connections to others are vital to resilience,” writes Monique Valcour, executive coach, keynote speaker, and management professor in Harvard Business Review. “They provide socioemotional support, a sense of belonging, and people to share experiences and ideas with. They infuse challenging situations with a sense of playfulness and optimism, heightening capacity to learn and perform. Positive relationships, both at work and in personal life, boost self-confidence, self-esteem, and resilience.”
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