Thursday, August 4, 2016

Leadership in crisis ... How not to get "trumped" ...

Image result for leadership in the open adam crowe

For many, the continuing debacle of the Trump presidential campaign is as fascinating as a train wreck. Where will this self-inflicted descent into the absurd end? 

The last few days have had me thinking about the value of leadership in a crisis. What makes the people at the top ready (or not  ...) to face the music. I remembered writing a piece on leaders and adaptation to a new context.

The text below is from my contribution to Adam Crowe's book published a couple of years ago. Titled Leadership in the Open: A New Paradigm in Emergency Management, the book focuses on the impact of technology during crises. 

My piece dealt with change and openness ...I've adapted it a little bit below: 

Transformational Transparency

We are in a transformational phase that will affect the work of emergency managers, business continuity planners and crisis communicators. Simply put, emerging technologies and trends have brought about a generalized democratization of these fields. Three factors are driving this change:
  • the growing importance of mobile technologies and social networks (social convergence)
  • the realization that speed is everything in a crisis 
  • greater public participation and input
There are numerous consequences and they all add to the workload of EM personnel and crisis communicators when an incident or disaster occurs. They must alert, respond, monitor and engage, all at once, at the onset of a crisis. In all these four imperatives, social and mobile play a key role.

Second, the speed at which incidents/crises move (whether in the real or virtual world) means that delegation of authority and some automation of the communications response process become essential.

Third, social networks bring greater participation from stakeholders and the public.That's the great democratization factor. Communities coalesce online when disasters or crises occur, focusing on recovery for example. Emergency managers and public officials have to deal with all sorts of newcomers to the EM table: crisis mappers, crowdsourcing groups, digital volunteers of all sorts.

So, how do leaders adapt to this new reality where the response structure becomes a bit more diffused? The only key to survival for effective leaders is to harness the power of the crowd; be willing to delegate; and have an absolute commitment to open and transparent dialogue with stakeholders and the public.

Trust in the big issue for leaders. Trust in their people, in the plans and preparation and in their ability to handle a crisis. Communications is at the very heart of this trust and needs to be driven in a transparent way right from the top. All leaders should know the basics of the "art" of crisis communications. 

Crisis communicators are no longer just "spin doctors" ... they have become facilitators in the ongoing dialogues between various stakeholders during an incident. But they can't do their job without the thorough understanding and support from the people at the top. 

There are five main pitfalls awaiting leaders who may face a crisis:
  1. being unprepared ...leaders ensure their organizations have effective plans in place, they know them, practice them and have their people do the same. Improvisation leads to lack of strategic vision that damages trust.
  2. not having a clear understanding of the crisis ... real leaders lead ... they are decisive ... don't push things/decision "upstairs" ... They take stands when given directives they know are wrong ... Effective leaders focus on people and not process ... they get results done by basing actions on plans ... not improvisation ... while adapting existing procedures according to the demands of each specific incidents.
  3. micromanaging and interfering ... this leads to mediocrity, lack of innovation and initiative and complacency. Leaders trust their people ... trust in their ability and their training ... don't get involved too deeply in operational details and minutiae ... don't overburden their organization with a convoluted approvals process that handicaps a swift and effective response.
  4. no collaboration or outreach ... ignoring key stakeholders and audiences means building tall, empty silos ... Shunning joint efforts, not joining collaborative efforts, sticking with narrow agendas and not establishing strong relationships in favour of a "go alone" approach leads to fragmented, uncoordinated responses that serve no audiences well.
  5. lack of a social media or web presence ... (or lack of an effective and well thought of one ...) Leaders understand the need to occupy the public space quickly in a crisis. They know that dialogue and info flow on social platforms is a great vehicle to establish that presence. They know that a stale website is a killer in terms of an effective communications response during an incident. It shows ignorance of the audiences needs in a crisis does as having sites that are NOT mobile-friendly.
So leaders act decisively ... To gain the trust of their audiences, they move quickly, they communicate and engage in an open manner and they delegate the implementation of their response. They do so because they understand that in the era of social convergence, the speed of the response and the public's perception of that response go hand in hand and will eventually determine its success.

Donald Trump has a leadership style that doesn't reflect any of the principles above. The    "I alone can fix it " approach is the utmost indication of someone entirely caught up in a fantasy world where being a leader is equaled to being an autocrat ... 

Leaders don't go "off message" ... they don't disavow their own strategy by improvising badly ... they don't blame others ... 

No comments:

Post a Comment