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“What leaders have to realize is that when a crisis hits, you can’t just rest on your laurels and think that everything will move along normally. You need to train, prepare and execute.” – Ronald Riggio, PhD, a professor of leadership and organizational psychology, Claremont McKenna College, California.

Predictability is not a popular business facet, and COVID has proved this point beyond our wildest imaginations. Many organizations have weathered the storm while some capitulated, signifying the role crises play in testing true leadership, organizational competence, and a trait that matters more than anything – values. This article looks into the most effective and established elements that make a crisis-ready leader. 

Communication – The Foremost Requisite

A crisis period calls for clarity, and transparent communication is simply the order of the day. Thoughtful communication on a regular basis shows that leaders thoroughly understand the situation and are adjusting their responses accordingly. Special care must be accorded while addressing the queries, interests, and concerns of the audience. Be it the employees, the stakeholders, or your customers, transparency in communication goes a long way in establishing much-needed trust. And as we know, trust is especially crucial during a crisis. Consider it a hit or miss. 

Meta Leadership 

The human brain is habituated to narrow its focus in the event of a threat, which isn’t necessarily bad as it is a survival mechanism. Problems occur when such a vision is solely restricted to immediate needs. The answer could be in the form of Meta leadership – a broad, holistic perspective of potential opportunities and challenges. It is a form of leadership that focuses on the now and beyond. 

Neither the Holy Books nor the spiritual advocates were wrong in advocating against the worry of the future. Worry and panic can be nemesis during these times, true. But nothing in the proper code of management & leadership deters us from anticipating and aligning strategies as per the changes that lay ahead. 

Stop Listening to That Pressure 

It is quite natural to feel stressed, agitated, and even worn out when a crisis like COVID arrives unexpectedly and leaves you without any proper source of revenue for at least a year. The way of exit seems more appealing, alluring. Negative vibes get into our thoughts and influence the way we react, unbeknownst to us. 

It is but a time to stop, reflect, and realize. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Founder of the Art of Living Foundation, says that “If you can win over your mind, you can win over the whole world”. Self-control allows you to be composed and get a better idea of the bigger picture. 

Diving deep into it, anxiety is quite a natural response to any situation that may be frustrating. The only way out of this natural development could be found in the world of mindfulness – in the form of activities that deal with the body and mind. 

Sir Alex Ferguson, the erstwhile football manager of Manchester United who can never be replaced (simply the best), is a big yoga fan; Paul Paulman, the CEO of Unilever, gets onto the treadmill the first thing in the day, much before his daily duties begin; Actress Gwyneth Paltrow, the owner of lifestyle company Goop,follows a regular habit of working out every morning after checking emails. And the examples are too many to be included here.  

This shows that the way you live your life is predominantly influenced by what you do in the background. Our talents may be natural, that’s uncontested. The key here is to not build something new but to manifest the perfection already in us. 

The Human Element 

A crisis period requires empathy and patience, perhaps because it is a time when people turn inward to ensure their own safety, survival, and protection. It is one of the golden rules of management to treat people the way you wish to be treated. Trust begets accountability, and accountability leads to results. 

Leaders mustn’t shy away from receiving empathy from others either. Remember, your well-being has a direct impact on your leadership response. Worry and anxiety are counterproductive, be it for an employee or a manager.

Takeaway lessons

Every crisis will pass. After every storm, peace and normalcy returns. Once you survive the crisis period, it is only fitting to re-strategize your plans. This is the time to right any wrongs of the crisis period and hit the road running with all buoyancy. One way of doing this is by conducting an After Action Review (AAR), an initiative adopted by several crisis response agencies of the United States. 

Is There a Way Out? 

A look back into the past says yes, there is. Public health crises of the past have always sparked innovations in various forms. Here’s an overview:

America and Tuberculosis

The America of the Tuberculosis epidemic had a different way of life than we know now. The civic values of the country were so much in disarray that civic and health leaders attributed the frequent outbreaks of tuberculosis, typhoid, and cholera to the garbage and the mess outside.

Those unimaginable days prompted city officials to ramp up systems for a better civic life by leveraging the then advancements in technology. This led to some ground-breaking innovations, without which we cannot imagine life today, can we?:

  • Sand filtration and chlorination systems were introduced to clean up municipal water supplies.
  • Water closets became popular (can you imagine a life without them now?). 
  • Public and sewage systems found their place in the country’s civic system.

The Man with the Remarkable Record 

The 19th century marked Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s remarkable feat of civil engineering when he was working over the Victoria Embankment. As Chief Engineer of London’s Metropolitan Board of Works, he was instrumental in designing a system where street severs (which back then flooded the River Thames) could be safely carried downriver and away from drinking supplies. 

The initiative virtually eliminated cholera and reduced instances of typhus and typhoid. Now, would this most inspiring work have found itself in the record if not for the Cholera outbreak of the 19th century?  

Other Global Impacts – A Snapshot 

The Athens plague of 430 BC brought essential changes to the city’s law and identity, the Horrifying Black Death transformed the balance of class power in European societies, and the Ebola epidemic went on to brighten the growing interconnectedness of international trade.

What to Expect?

Public health crises have always left their imprints on our society. The Coronavirus pandemic made its infamous entry at a time where some parts of the world were already embracing digitization, whilst a few others were sceptical of embracing the much-needed shift in perspective. History has shown us that this is a time to reflect, rethink the way we conduct our affairs, and explore ways to lead better lives. Picture this. It can be life-changing, in a good way.