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Monday, June 24, 2013
Rebecca observes that disasters can be a force for positive transformation and sometimes bring out the best in us:
"Behind such disaster response is an assumption about human nature: that we are selfish, chaotic, greedy, brutal animals. The evidence is mostly to the contrary - the great majority of us behave with grace and generosity and, often, great courage and calm."
Read more at:
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour.
Now you must go back and tell the people that this is The Hour.
Here are the things that must be considered:
Where are you living?
What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in right relation?
Where is your water?
Know our garden.
It is time to speak your Truth.
Create your community.
Be good to each other.
And do not look outside yourself for the leader.
This could be a good time!
There is a river flowing now very fast.
It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid.
They will try to hold on to the shore.
They will feel like they are being torn apart, and they will suffer greatly.
Know the river has its destination.
The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off toward the middle of the river,
Keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water.
See who is there with you and celebrate.
At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, least of all Ourselves!
For the moment we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.
The time of the lonely wolf is over.
Banish the word struggle from your attitude and vocabulary.
All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.
We are the ones we have been waiting for.
Hopi Nation 2009
What these crises have in common is that they spill across national borders and are well beyond the control of any single entity, no matter how large or powerful. How do we cope?
As we found in the Crisis Leadership Forum, there is need to create adaptable leaders at all levels who can better deal with uncertainty as well as build relationships across boundaries. CCL's Chris Ernst writes in Forbes that boundary-spanning leaders have a unique orientation:
"Rather than assuming boundaries to be barriers, truly collaborative leaders work best where boundaries intersect, overlap and bump up against one another. Boundary-spanning leaders bridge organizational and cultural divides; vertical and horizontal gaps; and stakeholder, demographic and geographic groupings. They thrive at finding innovative outcomes at the intersections where groups can work productively together."
Chris goes on to describe six leadership roles that are geared towards working across boundaries -- Conductor, Ambassador, Connector, Narrator, Mediator and Inventor. All of these are important in crisis preparedness and response. The more we can do to develop these capabilities in our ranks, and among leaders at large, the better we will be able to rise to meet the great challenges that are undoubtedly ahead in 2010.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
"Overly rosy promises are regularly offered by politicians, manufacturers, car salespeople, real estate agents, and nearly anyone trying to influence anyone else. Promises are the stuff of courtship or reassurance, particularly when people would rather deny the downside... This human tendency is exacerbated by systemic complexity. Economists know that forecasting is a dangerous occupation, especially about the future — which is funny but not a joke. In complex systems, inherent uncertainty joins with volatility to increase the likelihood that forecasts fall short."
Monday, November 9, 2009
"One of the great myths of leadership in recent years is that leaders have to appear strong and invulnerable to mistakes and pressures. All of us without exception make mistakes and will capitulate under enough pressure. The key is being open with others, taking them into your confidence, admitting your mistakes, and looking to them for advice and support. Rarely does anyone turn down a leader who genuinely asks for help.
Yet we're exposed regularly by the media to the stereotype of the flawless leader who always has an answer and is never left questioning a decision. While most leaders know this is a fantasy, they still struggle with admitting their own vulnerability when a situation goes awry and crisis strikes. It's as if doing so is tantamount to admitting failure as a leader.
This tension is not necessarily surprising. Fortune 500 CEOs are some of the most driven, results-oriented people on the planet. Because their jobs compel them to demand a great deal from their employees, their companies, and their products, most demand the same from themselves. In so doing, they are at risk of letting their egos take over and letting their protective shells harden. When things go wrong—which they inevitably do—they assume the fault lies elsewhere. Yet in most cases the leaders bear a high degree of responsibility for the problems, often as a result of the direct or indirect pressures they put on their people.
Authentic leaders find ways to resolve this struggle. Expressing humility is a great skill because it not only brings leaders closer to their management teams and employees, but also encourages similar candidness and humility in others. By taking the first step in revealing their vulnerabilities, leaders encourage an atmosphere where concerns and doubts are voiced. Potentially unforeseen problems can be addressed sooner, and with a team focus. It's difficult to do, but expressing vulnerabilities appropriately will make leaders more effective."
Bill suggests that leaders in a crisis don't need to carry the load alone nor be perfect. As we found in the Crisis Leadership Forum, a leader can be be more effective when they serve as a conductor of collective capabilities and wisdom.
Furthermore, Bill's perspective on crisis situations as a way to hone leadership skills makes sense. As we've found, the kind of skills needed for dealing with a crisis are increasingly in demand in a world that is in constant flux.
Saturday, October 3, 2009
- Be decisive: Make decisions, including some occasions when you don't have perfect information.
- Be accountable: Stand by your decisions, admit when you've made a mistake, and make sure you and your team are accountable.
- Be transparent: Don't just tell the truth, share the intent behind your decisions.
- Be a unifier: Make people feel like they're part of something that will last.
- Be willing to change yourself: Embrace personal growth.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Reality: People are not “things” to be added or deleted to the production equation with mathematical sterility. Humans are—just that, humans—and are carriers of feelings and emotions. The overwhelming consensus of downsizing research is that layoffs do not achieve their “going in” productivity goals. Survivors of most organizations are angry, depressed, anxious and fearful. They are not able or willing to take risks or focus on increasing customer service. At the very time organizations need them to be the most creative and energetic; they hunker down in the trenches, absorbed in their own toxic survivor symptoms. They may look as though they are working hard, but it is an illusion.
Reality: Survivor guilt - formulated by the same dynamics that affect survivors of other forms of trauma – is alive and well in post-layoff organizations. Guilt and its relatives – anxiety and depression – are not the stuff of motivation! Organizational leaders need to implement strategies to deal with the disabling consequences of survivor guilt before they will have truly motivated employees.
Reality: Organizationally sanctioned processes that facilitate the venting of repressed feelings and emotions are a necessary means to the end of moving employees back to productivity. Without the healthy externalization of layoff induced anger, fear, and anxiety, employees will remain crippled by layoff survivor sickness. In fact, research shows their symptoms will get worse.
Reality: Feelings and emotions are the currency of the managerial realm. Surviving employees are attempting to deal with a toxic brew of productivity hindering emotions and need to feel authorized to talk about them. Employees would much rather have managers tell them that they don’t know something as opposed to having them not say anything or make something up. Managers who are strong enough to show their own vulnerability and uncertainty not only help their employees, they help themselves.
Reality: Without planned interventions, layoff survivor symptoms not only linger, they intensify. Research conducted in one organization five years after the initial layoff showed survivor symptoms not only intensified, but many employees were demonstrating passive-aggressive behavior – faking it and “going through the motions” in some contexts, and expressing increased anger and hostility in many others. A large number of organizational systems today – public, private, government – are only operating at a small fraction of their potential because they are dragged down by employees with long term survivor symptoms.
Reality: “Sucking it up” is precisely the wrong strategy for dealing with downsizing, change, and transition. It is a defense mechanism - a form of evasion that anchors behavior in the past and prevents productive engagement and personal growth. Leadership in the post-layoff environment is a helping, not a controlling relationship, and requires reaching out, not closing down and hiding behind a facade of toughness and control. Honesty grounded in a helping orientation is an absolute necessity. Honesty grounded in “brutality” may help the manager vent his or her own anger, but it will ultimately harm the manager, the employee, and the organization. Labeling authenticity, empathy, and helping behaviors with the derogatory term “touchy-feely,” or making disparaging comments that one lives in the “real” world, are additional examples of diversionary defense mechanisms. The most effective managers have learned the power of engaging in helping relationships and use that power to re-recruit employees and restore organizational productivity.
Reality: We are experiencing a fundamental shift in the psychological contract that connects employee to employer. When the economy becomes more positive, the frequency of mass layoffs will diminish, but long-term, lifetime employment with one organization is a thing of the past. Employees will have to rely on maintaining transferable marketable skills and continually cultivate their professional network. That will provide the only true employment security in the brave new world of the new psychological employment contract.
Reality: In the new reality, employees will be loyal to their profession and motivated more by the work itself rather than the organization where they perform that work. We are caught in the confusing and painful cross currents of a paradigm shift. Once employees break their organizational codependency – caused by indexing their self-esteem and relevance on the organization where they work as opposed to the work itself – there will be a quantum increase in motivation. This will occur because employees will be driven by an inner sense of purpose rather than contrived external motivational techniques.
Reality: The best strategy for organizational survival in the new reality is to attract employees because of the work. In the new paradigm the best and most talented employees will have options; they will choose their employers because they want to be there, not because they have to be there. Leading these new, “volunteer” employees will require much more creativity and collaboration than managing a work force that is “tied in” and trapped by benefits, services, and social systems that reward fitting in and conformity and motivate by fear of job loss.
Reality: Both those who stay and those who leave are, in a sense, “victims” of the paradigm shift to the new psychological employment contract. Despite, often significant, economic issues, some who leave are able to re-frame their job loss, move away from victimhood, and discover a wake-up call. They use the experience to find work that has more personal relevance and remove their self-esteem from the unpredictable vicissitudes of organizational life. Survivors, too have the opportunity to turn away from victimhood. They can shed the symptoms of layoff survivor sickness, and take personal charge of their lives and careers. It is a difficult struggle for both those who stay and those who leave, but the gain is well worth the pain.
Sunday, August 2, 2009
In his classic book, Normal Accidents: Living with High-Risk Technologies, Perrow discussed the numerous high-risk technologies that pervade modern life and the dangers they pose for society. First published in 1984 with an updated version released in 1999, Normal Accidents presents an argument for the inevitability of large-scale disasters such as nuclear meltdowns, petrochemical-plant explosions, maritime accidents, and so forth. These accidents are inevitable, or “normal,” because they stem from systems that have specific structural characteristics. Namely, these systems are interactively complex, meaning that different parts of the system are likely to work together in ways that produce unanticipated consequences. Secondly, these systems exhibit tight coupling, meaning that a single change in one part of the system will directly lead to changes in other parts of the system.
This means that over time disasters will become increasingly likely. In other words, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
In his 2007 book The Next Catastrophe: Reducing our Vulnerabilities to Natural, Industrial, and Terrorist Disasters, Perrow builds upon the themes presented in Normal Accidents while suggesting a few approaches toward limiting the havoc that such normal accidents will inevitably wreak upon society. In so doing, he also points out three more sources of vulnerability beyond interactive complexity and tight coupling. These three sources are all in the form of high concentrations of the following:
- Energy. In numerous locations around the United States, industrial storage facilities house vast quantities of explosive, toxic, and flammable substances. Because these storage facilities are concentrated in specific locations, an accident in any one of them would be much more disastrous than if storage occurred in smaller quantities at a greater number of separate sites.
- People. High population densities in risky areas make disasters in those locales catastrophic. For example, New Orleans is a vulnerable city—due to its geography and its proximity to high-risk industry. The fact that it is also high in population density makes it particularly vulnerable.
- Economic and political power. Perrow has a knack for drawing our attention to the role of power in organizations, and he argues here that mega-corporations and the political entities with which they interact wield so much power over very real aspects of our daily lives that any failure within them could pose serious risk. One example he cites is the pervasive nature of the Microsoft Windows operating system. If Windows failed—due to a massive computer virus, for example—catastrophic damage to business, government, and personal livelihood would likely result. Another example, although not addressed directly in the book, is the danger posed by financial institutions deemed “too big to fail” that we have witnessed in recent years.
To address these issues, Perrow argues that (a) government should implement wise regulations that limit these concentrations and (b) that leaders should focus on these concentrations as real threats instead of being distracted by other less-likely sources of disaster. In essence, he suggests that the focus should be on “shrinking the targets.” For example, Perrow argues that political interests have overestimated the terrorism threat in the United States while underestimating the threats posed by industrial forces, such as the nuclear power industry.
Overall, Perrow presents a number of examples that suggest the three areas of concentration listed above are indeed sources of vulnerability. His approach toward shrinking those targets, however, appears to focus mostly on policy decisions rather than aspects of human behavior within organizations.
As such, The Next Catastrophe provides an interesting view of disaster and vulnerability at a macro level. Much like “watchdog” groups that illuminate concerns within government agencies and programs, Perrow has been shining a light on the dark side of organizations, business, and government for decades. And his suggestions, when coupled with other viewpoints at the micro level, may provide a way for us to avoid the ominous theme of “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet” that underscores his theories.
The article also appears at Foster Excellence.
Monday, July 20, 2009
The rural villages closer to the epicenter were not so lucky. Where we faced rumor and conjecture, they saw reality in broken bodies and homes. 90,000 people died and another 6 million were displaced. The areas that were hardest hit – where entire towns were wiped away in an instant - were often the most remote, with access limited both physically and politically. In light of this, the relief efforts that ensued and the leadership they inspired were rendered all the more incredible.
Reading recent posts on this crisis blog, I was struck by the way that post-Katrina lessons resonated with experiences we had in Sichuan following the earthquake. I've included a few of these key points and reactions below.
"Empower people at the grassroots: Organizations should empower local leaders to make decisions based on the situations they face and then support those decisions."
When the chance emerged to launch an earthquake relief project, our organization gave us the power to run with it. We had spent over a year and a half researching and developing a microfinance program 50 km outside the city. A week had gone by after the earthquake, and there was still no sign of us being able to reach the village. Within reach, however, were dozens of cities devastated by the earthquake that could benefit from potential help.
When we approached our organizational leadership half a world away about needing to develop a refugee children's relief effort, they didn't blink. Within a week we had developed and launched the beginnings of a children's summer camp relief program. This would eventually grow into a weekly activity base and English-learning program for kids in Luo Shuai, a town where 1/3 of the children had perished during the 3 minutes of the Sichuan earthquake.
"Encourage courage: Lead your organization in a way such that people aren't afraid to "bet their bars" and take personal risks."
We started with one mini-van full of volunteers, soccer balls, paint brushes, and sweat. The following weekend we had two vans, and three the next. By the fourth we needed to hire a local school bus and by the fifth we had reached capacity. It took 4 hours to reach the village that first day and another 4 to get home. The roads were cracked, collapsed, and filled with debris. Police officers at blockades lined the roads leading to the refugee camps. Cameras were banned. Passports required.
We played all day in the sweltering summer sun with the children of Luo Shuai. The kids we met and played with were homeless, grief-stricken, and confused on many levels. Two of their schools had collapsed when the earthquake hit mid-school day. Local estimates suggested that up to a third of the children in the village had died in the rubble. Their town no longer existed as they remembered it.
On the days that we played with them, however, they were just normal kids. The summer days were hot, school was suspended, and the refugee camps were boring. A gaggle of paint-brush wielding foreigners was a welcome diversion.
A parent told us that watching the children play with us he saw them laugh and smile for the first time since the earthquake. "You don't understand," he said, "the rest of the week the kids just sit and stare. They are never this happy." On some weeks we saw parents standing off to the side of the playgroup and looking silently on. Some would cry. They had lost their children.
"Develop flexibility: Develop a culture of flexibility, adaptation, and discretion while staying action oriented."
During these moments of playtime with Chinese refugee children, leaders emerged amongst the expat community and Chinese friends leading the volunteer movement. Some took on new roles entirely, while others experimented with variations of familiar roles. A retired schoolteacher who loved pristine order gave herself up to the hot lovable mess of the toddlers who would fling themselves onto her lap and never, ever, pronounce the alphabet correctly.
A young British-Australian couple began to learn about one-another's abilities with children as they orchestrated musical games together. When the stereo broke down one day during "dance class," I - the resident Coloradoan of the bunch - brought line dance to Sichuan Province.
I saw the most striking example of a new take on an old role in the Scottish manager of an alcohol production company. This man was used to wielding his command of the English language in a strong brogue as his most powerful tool. However, he spoke little Mandarin and ran out of things to say to the children quickly. He chose to spend his time with the project volunteering quietly off to one side, camera in hand. While those of us that knew a bit more Mandarin chatted and played, this alpha male began quietly taking portraits of children at play and their families who watched them. The elders took a shining to him, noting that he possessed gray hair – like theirs – and an unending supply of images of their grandchildren in his camera. He was a hit with the 60 + set.
A few weeks into the project, he told us sharply that he had asked his alcohol company to have posters ordered and printed through "a connection with a bloke he knew." He showed up the following week with three tubes stuffed with industrial-quality posters as tall as himself. In place of the usual liquor ads that he might have normally printed were hundreds and hundreds of photos of our kids and their families. While we played that week, he went to the spots around the refugee camp where families could gather and quietly hung these life-size memories. For the rest of our remaining weeks, whenever we came or went from the camp, we could see community members – especially those elders - gathered around the photo collages and discussing whose grandchild looked handsome, whose daughter that was, and who got it in his mind to have his face painted into a butterfly pattern by the foreigners.
Friday, July 10, 2009
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Ashora platoons now moving from valiasr toward National Tv staion. mousavi's supporters are already there. my father is out there!
Monday, May 18, 2009
- Forge relationships: Build relationships with a broad base of stakeholders before the crisis.
- Develop flexibility: Develop a culture of flexibility, adaptation, and discretion while staying action oriented.
- Encourage courage: Lead your organization in a way such that people aren't afraid to “bet their bars” and take personal risks.
- Empower people at the grassroots: Organizations should empower local leaders to make decisions based on the situations they face and then support those decisions.
- Engender inclusive leadership: Develop the capacity in individuals, groups, and communities to participate as peers in creating leadership.
Sunday, May 17, 2009
What he didn’t say, at least in the teaser to his new book featured in the May 25 issue of BusinessWeek, is how much we can learn about business resilience and leadership from “high-reliability organizations.”
High-reliability organizations (HROs) are those that face so much danger, complexity, and ambiguity on a daily basis that we’d expect them to fail very frequently—but they don’t. Typical examples of HROs include nuclear power plants, naval aircraft carriers, and emergency response agencies. For a variety of reasons, these organizations are able to continually cope with small errors and negotiate the ambiguity around them such that they avoid disaster.
Two of the most prominent thought leaders regarding what makes HROs special, Karl Weick and Kathleen Sutcliffe, described five specific principles that HROs embrace:
- Preoccupation with failure
- Reluctance to simplify
- Sensitivity to operations
- Commitment to resilience
- Deference to expertise
This notion of leadership differs from much of leadership thought—both in academic and managerial circles—that focuses on leaders as heroic men and women who gallop around organizations on white horses, dream about possibilities, and inspire followers to march along toward greatness. I’m exaggerating for illustrative purposes, of course, but my point is that we can learn from the tough, questioning, interactive model of leadership suggested by HROs.
A common critique of using HROs as a model for leading business organizations through crisis and adversity is that HROs are simply too different from the private, for-profit sector to offer any worthwhile lessons. The research that Collins described, however, suggests otherwise. For example, he suggested that organizations encounter five stages of decline: (a) hubris born of success, (b) undisciplined pursuit of more, (c) denial of risk and peril, (d) grasping for salvation and (e) capitulation to irrelevance or death.
Discussing the dangerous nature of success, Collins wrote, “The best leaders we’ve studied never presume they’ve reached ultimate understanding of all the factors that brought them success. For one thing, they retain a somewhat irrational fear that perhaps their success stems in large part from fortuitous circumstance.” Therefore, it seems that leaders who preoccupy themselves with failure are also those best poised to maintain success.
Additionally, Collins suggests that teams “on the way up” have specific patterns of interaction that allow them to maintain their organizations’ resilience and competitive advantage. These dynamics include:
- Rewarding those who highlight “grim facts"
- Leading by asking questions
- Crediting others for success
- Arguing and debating to help the organization overall
- Learning from past mistakes
Collins’ new book, How the Mighty Fall and Why Some Companies Never Give in, probably offers numerous other ways in which business organizations can become more resilient and ways in which leaders can effectively lead during crises. All I’m saying is that those principles have much in common with what we’ve already learned from HROs. Namely, Collins’ research strongly suggests that we can apply lessons learned in HROs—be they combat teams, nuclear power plants, or flight-deck operators—to the realm of business, providing distinct ways for leaders in organizations to avoid the disastrous consequences of failure.
The article also appears at Foster Excellence.
Thursday, April 30, 2009
Consider the current buzz surrounding the H1N1 influenza virus, the so-called “swine flu.” It’s getting a great deal of attention—as it should—from major news outlets around the world. For example, a Google News search of the keyword H1N1 at 1:10 p.m. EST on April 30 yielded 77,337 results within the last hour alone. Combine that coverage with millions of people sharing it and discussing it on social-media sites like Twitter and Facebook, and you have an incredible amount of information bouncing around cyberspace. Yet the question remains: During crises, are social media and Internet-based technologies helpful tools? Or do they make the problem worse by functioning like a high-tech rumor mill?
Certainly, arguments exist for both sides. The Internet and social media make information dissemination extraordinarily fast. Tech-savvy leaders during crises could potentially use sites like Twitter to provide stakeholders with useful updates that ensure wide dissemination of information.
It’s also plausible that people may become overloaded with contradictory or erroneous information, and that specific pieces of information may unduly influence people’s perceptions. Additionally, the Internet and social media may encourage users to gauge a crisis’ severity incorrectly and take inappropriate action. For example, it’s a distinct possibility that people may hoard personal stashes of the influenza medication Tamiflu, greatly hindering public-health efforts.
So how should leaders use the Internet and social media during crises? Or should they even use these tools at all? The answers to those questions are complex, but perhaps leaders could start by recognizing the Internet and social media outlets for what they are—tools. And like any tool, they are only as good as the way in which they are used. Maybe leaders should start with understanding the important messages they need to communicate, the audiences that they need to reach, and then wisely employ the most appropriate technologies accordingly.
At the very least, it behooves leaders to understand what tools are available and strategize how best they might use them before crisis strikes—remembering, of course, that (a) more information isn’t always better and (b) anything disseminated via the Web has the propensity to spread like wildfire.
Saturday, April 11, 2009
Pirates, Hostages, and Ambiguity on the High Seas: Countering Complex Threats with Complex Solutions
First, consider the complexity of dangerous pirates operating in international waters off the coast of the Horn of Africa, holding an American ship captain hostage, and communicating no clear paths toward resolution. National reputations, corporate interests, and general notions about international-shipping safety are at stake. Thus, a number of powerful parties—Maersk Line, (owners of the Maersk Alabama), U.S. President Barack Obama and his White House, the U.S. State Department, and others—have a vested interest in the event and its outcomes.
But within this current crisis off the coast of Somalia, the decision by Navy leaders to reach out to the FBI for more expertise in the hostage-negotiation realm demonstrates a key competency of crisis leadership. Leaders must be able to recognize that when a situation requires more diversity in expertise, more requisite variety. And if they are successful in matching the complexity of the environment with a complex and well-coordinated response, positive outcomes become more likely.
So it’s an unfortunate fact that there’s no “easy button.” What leaders can do within crises, however, is pay close attention to their environments and ensure a finely grained division of labor among diverse experts in their response. They must counter complex threats with complex, collaborative solutions. It’s not easy, but it’s one key part of good crisis leadership.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
- Strong core values: Because crises naturally challenge an organization’s capabilities, it’s crucial for managers to maintain a consistent focus on the organization’s central ideals. This entails continually reinforcing how you do business, in addition to what your business does. For example, Collins cited Procter & Gamble’s persistent focus on product quality as an enduring feature that has helped it succeed despite adversity.
- A continual focus on human capital: Quite simply, people matter. If managers choose to sacrifice attention to their human capital, their organizations will fail. Retaining—and yes, even hiring—good people during economic downturns should continue to be a top priority. Why? According to Collins, it’s high-performing employees that pull organizations toward success during crises. Additionally, in a labor market flush with talent, the time is ripe for organizations to bolster their human-capital advantage.
Finally, Collins proposed that executives should remember that “turbulence is your friend.” Despite current economic uncertainty, organizations with leaders who seek and exploit new opportunities will emerge from this crisis with a renewed strategic focus enabling them to succeed.
The worst action for executives, Collins contended, is inaction. Referencing his hobby of rock climbing, he said, “You don't just sit on the mountain. You either go up or go down, but don't just sit and wait to get clobbered. If you go down and survive, you can come back another day. You have to ask the question, ‘What can we do not just to survive but to turn this into a defining point in history?’” The place to start, as Collins suggested, just might be (a) reinforcing your core values and (b) focusing on your human capital. Because, after all, values and people do make a difference.
Saturday, March 7, 2009
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Take, for instance, President Barack Obama’s Feb. 24 address before a joint session of Congress. In his speech, which dealt largely with his plans to bolster the economy, Mr. Obama incorporated several elements of expectation management. Specifically, after discussing his immediate plans for economic recovery, Mr. Obama’s rhetoric shifted to describe plans with a decidedly futuristic orientation. To illustrate with a simple example, let’s consider the president’s use of two phrases: “short term” and “long term.”
For starters, Mr. Obama used the phrase “short term” twice while mentioning “long term” six times. But what is compelling from an expectation-management perspective is that both times that he said “short term,” he immediately juxtaposed “short term” with “long term.” Early in the speech, Mr. Obama compared the two, saying, “Short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity.” Later, he said, “The recovery plan and the financial stability plan are the immediate steps we’re taking to revive our economy in the short-term. But the only way to fully restore America’s economic strength is to make the long-term investments that will lead to new jobs, new industries, and a renewed ability to compete with the rest of the world.”
In his recent column on Forbes.com, Shaun Rein describes Mr. Obama’s expectation-management strategy as one that business leaders should adopt in difficult times. Rein wrote, “President Obama has continually lowered expectations about his ability to right the economy quickly. This has given him time to maneuver and allowed for more upside potential … Managing the expectations of investors and employees is critical now. One of the biggest mistakes senior executives make is trying to put too positive a spin on a situation.” Indeed, business bloggers are also picking up on the importance of expectation management in the face of crises.
Bloomberg News columnist Caroline Baum focused instead on Mr. Obama’s optimism. In her Feb. 26 column, she wrote, “Chicago is home to, among other things, rational expectations theory, the idea that outcomes depend to some extent on what people expect to happen. It would have been hard to spend that much time in Hyde Park without some of Chicago rubbing off on Obama … If we expect the future to be better, rational expectations dictate that it will be.”
Taking a scholarly perspective, organizational theorists argue that people’s expectations regarding what constitutes the ordinary shape how they make sense of and ascribe meaning to the world around them. So in terms of leadership, it behooves leaders to manage expectations carefully, keeping in mind the power of suggestion and using talk to frame how others regard their environments. At the same time, however, it’s crucial to manage expectations in such a way that people are more likely—not less—to notice and publicize the weak signals and small deviations from normality that are all too often beacons warning of impending disaster.
Monday, March 2, 2009
To the point: on the basis of the extensive literature review, I identified six hypotheses to be tested by the survey:
Hypothesis 1. Transformational leadership is the highly correlated with company performance during the crisis. I expected the transformational leaders to be the kind of leaders described by Klann (2003): being ready for anything, being keen on crisis to test their effectiveness and, finally, being able to ‘turn the chaos of a crisis into the promise of opportunity’. The finding that transformational leaders are able to influence only their performance and, practically, have no impact on company performance under crisis was highly disappointing.
As ‘charismatic attributes are at the heart of the transformational leader’ (Merolla et al. 2007), I expected by charismatic leaders to have even stronger impact on company performance than transformational leaders. Therefore, my Hypothesis 4 was that the charismatic leaders can increase company performance during a crisis. I found the only charisma that is important in crisis is the one presented during through time. If the leader was charismatic on a day-to-day basis but for some reasons, for example due to high stress level and inability to cope with it, changed his leadership style, the benefit of his charm would disperse.
Hypothesis 2. Leadership style does not change during crisis – it just become more expressive. I would say this was confirmed by my research although the results of validity tests were mixed. The direction of the shift was the biggest astonishment for me. I expected the number of transformational leaders to increase. Yet, the move towards more firm and less partnering style of leadership is visible during crisis.
Hypothesis 3. Leaders who perceived themselves charismatic would prefer ‘mental toughness’ as a major stress copying mechanism. I classified the following behaviours as the mental toughness: self-confidence, being optimistic, never-give-up approach, ‘take one day at time’, you-can-do-it approach, determination to succeed and ‘I always win’ strategy. This hypothesis was confirmed in my survey but work-related solutions (working even harder than during non-crisis time, crisis plan preparation, motivation from previous crisis-experience) were just slightly less popular among respondents.
Hypothesis 5. Performance depends on the stress level: the higher crisis level, the lower assessment of participants’ performance, as well as their company performance. My research proved the usefulness of the Yerkes Dodson model of arousal tension (Halverson et al. 2004): low levels of arousal stress can be beneficial for personal performance. As far as company performance is concerned, the relation is more linear: the stronger the stress, the lesser the performance.
Hypothesis 6. Stress coping mechanisms are not related to the leadership style expressed by leaders in crisis. Overall, there are no correlations with the mental toughness being the only exception. On the more detail (stress-mitigating behaviour) level, seeking external (but not professional) support was by far the most popular activity if under stress.
To sum up, the most general observation I have is the literature is so diverse and the opinions are so wide-ranging and at variance with each other that anyone can find both supporting and contradicting citations for any single issues related to crisis leadership. Any new research can bring evidences to defend some earlier findings but also to oppose them.
On the other hand, my MBA project has clarified my point of view on the debate on leaders being born or made: the crisis leaders are made! No doubts you have to have certain traits but this research proved the more experience in crisis, the better performance. You have to go through this hell to become a crisis leader!
Saturday, February 28, 2009
"Like Hercules, Luke Skywalker, and Jack Welch, we all struggle with five recurring challenges as we journey through work and life: We wander without knowing where we’re going. Data and circumstances confuse us. Fear blocks us from acting. Change paralyzes us. And despite our best intentions, we talk more than we listen."
They find that these challenges surface repeatedly in the business literature:
"An examination of business writing from the past 30 years shows that these challenges emerge again and again—and the best books offer simple yet profound lessons for overcoming them: Find a clear purpose. Be aware that past experience and a mass of information can interfere with wise decisions. Maintain a bias toward action. Be open to change. Seek feedback."
These nuggets of wisdom -- to take swift action but be open to feedback and frequent course corrections -- make much sense in crisis situations where desired outcomes are clear ... but the path there may be anything but obvious.
Monday, February 23, 2009
"The sudden change in economic fortunes has given organizations an unexpected opportunity to show their true colours. And their people are watching. It is a challenge that will test the boilerplate on corporate values in countless annual reports and set every organization's tone for years to come. Will the stories to be told of the Crash of '08 and the ensuing recession reaffirm your organization's values or will they tell of cold actions that contradicted the warm words crafted in happier times?"
He indicates that there is need to balance managing costs with managing the toll on people. Leaders must engage at human level:
"Don't underestimate the power of face-to-face communication: Trust is at a premium and nothing reaffirms and creates it like sitting down with people, especially over a meal. Get in front of your clients, suppliers and resource providers. Talk to your people in town halls and other venues."
He also states that it is a time to be flexible and open to change:
"Address the key issues with cross-functional, cross-organizational teams comprising people from all over the organization and who are capable of handling a variety of challenges. De-emphasize the formal organization. Line managers are often best left off the teams to run their operations. Include “young Turks” and perennial malcontents from the fringes of the organization to send a powerful message of change."
This advice – to open up the lines of communication and create open space for new growth – runs counter to the path that many organizations opt for in a crisis. David's perspective – expressed in books such as Crisis & Renewal – is that a crisis is an opportunity for organizations to get back to their innovative roots and reconnect with the processes of creativity, learning, and experimentation that brought them to life.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
- Change your mindset. Recognize that market conditions have changed, and that those changes should call into question many aspects of how you’ve traditionally done business.
- Get your financial house in order. Make tough choices, possibly including eliminating lines of business and issuing more stock, to strengthen your balance sheet and to secure your firm’s fundamental financial health.
- Make a move for market share. Focus on your core business and be on the lookout for newly available resources, both human and asset-related.
- Rethink your reward system. Avoid cutting compensation across the board; instead, find non-monetary ways to reward employees and improve morale.
- Dare to innovate. Taking the time and effort to innovate during the downturn could open new doors in the future. It’s risky, but may result in high returns.
The past year has forced us to think differently about what it means to undertake risk. Additionally, it seems that obtaining actionable information about potential risks is becoming increasingly difficult. It may not be a lack of information that fuels this difficulty; rather, it may be that managers today have such an abundance of information to process—via numerous financial reporting services, for example—that they cannot reasonably evaluate competing courses of action. Much of 2009 will be about figuring out what exactly happened to markets during 2008, but whether managers can use that information to guide their firms successfully remains to be seen.
This entry also appears at Organizing for High Reliability.
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
In their recent research article titled “Making Matters Worse: An Anatomy of Leadership Failures in Managing Catastrophic Events,” scholars Naim Kapucu and Montgomery Van Wart analyzed the catastrophic events in the city of New Orleans during and after hurricanes Katrina and Rita made landfall in 2005. Kapucu, an associate professor in the Department of Public Administration at the University of Central Florida, and Van Wart, a professor and chair of the Department of Public Administration at California State University, San Bernardino, propose that 12 specific leadership competencies are particularly important in the management of catastrophic disasters and provide evidence of how those competencies were lacking during the Katrina emergency response.
Specifically, the authors argue that leadership during catastrophes especially requires leaders to demonstrate the competencies of decisiveness, flexibility, informing, problem solving, managing change and creativity, planning and organizing personnel, motivating, managing and building teams, scanning the environment, strategic planning, networking and partnering, and decision making. Using these competencies as a conceptual framework, Kapucu and Van Wart then discuss how their analysis of government reports and national media coverage demonstrates that in many ways the emergency-management efforts related to hurricane Katrina in New Orleans is a “case study of what not to do” (p. 719, emphasis added).
Kapucu and Van Wart suggest that the leadership failures regarding hurricane Katrina in New Orleans fall into five categories:
- Failures in prevention and planning. Relevant leadership competencies that were lacking include environmental scanning (defined as “gathering and critically evaluating data related to external trends, opportunities, and threats on an on-going and relatively informal basis” p. 718), strategic planning, networking, and personnel planning. Leaders failed to appropriately demonstrate these capabilities both prior to the hurricane reaching land and during the immediate aftermath of the disaster.
- Failure to adapt and expand capacity. Relevant leadership competencies that were lacking include environmental scanning, strategic planning, team building, flexibility, and decision making. In particular, leaders failed to shift their plans as dictated by the unfolding disaster and took a more reactive than proactive approach toward requesting assistance.
- Failure to restore communications rapidly. Relevant leadership competencies that were lacking include strategic planning, problem solving, creativity, and providing motivation. With these competencies, the authors suggest that community and government leaders could have restored communications more rapidly.
- Inflexible decision making. Relevant leadership competences that were lacking, as implied by the category title, include flexibility and decision making. For example, the authors discuss how the decision to use the New Orleans Superdome as an emergency shelter was flawed because it “encouraged nonevacuation, was unprepared for the 20,000 who were housed there, and was unequipped with the supplies necessary” (p.732). Thus, this decision failed in terms of both preparation and implementation.
- Weak coordination and lack of goodwill. Relevant leadership competencies that were lacking include networking and partnering, team building, and decision making. Specifically, the authors mention a number of organizations that failed to adequately coordinate their emergency-response efforts. Furthermore, although some local communities responded admirably during the disaster, others did not, and in so doing stymied evacuation and appropriate disaster relief.
Therefore, Kapucu and Van Wart’s research suggests that leaders during disasters must enact specific competencies in addition to those required by leaders in stable operating conditions. Proactive contingency planning is vital, but leaders must be prepared to adjust their plans as necessary when unfolding events challenge the assumptions upon which the plans were built. Finally, the massive level of inter-organizational coordination that facilitates effective emergency response necessitates direct attention to networking and partnering before disaster strikes.
Kapucu and Van Wart’s article appeared in the journal Administration & Society. The full reference is as follows:
Kapucu, N., & Van Wart, M. (2008). Making matters worse: An anatomy of leadership failures in managing catastrophic events. Administration & Society, 40, 711-740.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
There were many failures that enabled the scale of the attacks. Quite telling was that the elite commando force took 10 hours to arrive at the scene of the attacks, ferried the last miles to the scene of the attacks on borrowed public buses. Clearly the Indian government was completely unprepared for this kind of attack.
Also telling was the role that ordinary people played in rescues. The heroes were hotel waitstaff and cooks who put their lives at risk to hide hundreds of guests instead of bailing out through the back door with their own lives – many staff perished (watch a segment on Charlie Rose). A tea vendor at the train station that was attacked saved dozens of lives by repeatedly rushing in to get paralyzed commuters out. The one AK-47 toting terrorist who was captured alive was taken down by constables wielding bamboo sticks.
In the national soul searching that has followed the attacks there is much blame being levied against the government for the lack of intelligence, the lack of preparation, and the tardy response. Nevertheless there is appreciation too that guarding this vast country from terrorism is going to take the vigilance of all people. It is a lesson India can learn from Israel where ordinary citizens foil the majority of attacks by taking swift action. In the Mumbai attacks the 10 terrorists came ashore at a fishing village and walked past the dock official who passively watched them go despite all the signals that something was amiss.