The Learning Leader: What Do You Do in a Crisis?
Challenging times — especially crises — are a great acid test for "learning leadership" — to see if you model an adaptive and flexible approach under pressure. When things go wrong and are at least partly out of their control, great leaders can show how quickly they learn and help their organizations do so ... or not.
I've identified five mistakes wannabe learning leaders sometimes make, especially in a crisis or under pressure. Also below are some learning-based alternatives to these mistakes.
1. Hubris over humility
When the plan runs on rails, success seems easy. You can get lazy and even begin to believe your own hype on how clever you are. The ancient Greeks called it hubris. Be aware that a crisis doesn't always emerge fast and with a blue light flashing. You might simply sanction the equivalent of carrying on making the slide rule when the electronic calculator comes out. For example, being obsessed with your website when the world has moved on to mobile. However, "blindsided" is as much a failing as "blind panic."
Learning: Begin by accepting in advance that things will go wrong or, at best, change dramatically. Have a plan. And have a plan B. Test the plan against all kinds of disruptive scenarios. If the plan can cope with the very unlikely, it will ride out the possible. Tell people about the plan. Let people know that "crises" — fast-changing, risky situations — are the new normal.
2. Pressure pushes principle aside
Sometimes leaders feel that they have to act quickly. But if you don't consider alternatives or seek other opinions from your key stakeholders, what's meant to be decisiveness can look like ignoring long-espoused core values about reflection, participation and engagement. The result is your "learning leader" credibility vanishes and the negative effects are felt long past the crisis.