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Leadership In Crisis

Everyone facing a crisis is looking for some hope that can keep them motivated. A crisis situation provides an opportunity for the Leader to communicate a shared vision for the future that can help unite people towards a common goal.

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“The true test of leadership is how well you function in a crisis” – Brian Tracy  
“The Last Ship” is a highly rated web-series that one can watch using Amazon Prime membership. The plot (spoiler alert) is about the crew of a naval destroyer called “Nathan James”. The crew is forced to confront the reality of a new existence when a pandemic kills off most of the earth's population. While every character can be studied in detail, my interest was in the protagonist and Captain of the ship, Thomas J Chandler.

As the web-series unfolds in Season 1, Tom Chandler is seen working through one crisis after another. He shows many qualities of a leader who saves Nathan James and its crew from imminent dangers while keeping the hope alive for finding a cure for mankind. This web-series is quite relatable to the current pandemic we are facing due to Covid-19 virus. I watched all five seasons and it gives me good insight into what leadership in crisis is all about.

1. Authenticity
“Authenticity is when you say and do the things you actually believe” – Simon Sinek
The first and foremost quality a leader in crisis need to exhibit is authenticity. Being authentic means to be true to oneself and to others. The leader has to uphold integrity of character under all circumstances. Being open-minded to accept situations as they come, being transparent and not holding back information as well as staying fair to everyone is important.

In a crisis situation, communication is the key. People are more worried when they are unaware. If bad news has to be delivered, it has to be delivered anyways. An authentic leader is trusted by his/her followers and they make all attempts to stand beside the leader. Without the trust and followership, it will become a herculean task for the leader to surpass the crisis.

2. Courage
“Courage is grace under pressure” – Ernest Hemingway
Courage is the strength one exhibits to withstand adversity and fear. In a crisis situation, especially when it is first of its kind, it generates tremendous amount of fear. The absence of a tried and tested solution aggravates the feeling of fear.

A leader in crisis shows the courage to accept responsibility, courage of being a non-conformist, courage to push self and other out of comfort zone and courage to define the template for the future.

3. Decisiveness: 
“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing” – Theodore Roosevelt

Decision making is never easy in a crisis as more things can go wrong than right. Yet, not making a decision is also not a choice. Under usual circumstances, the leader may have the time and comfort of validating with others before making a decision. Yet in a crisis situation, the leader has to show decisiveness.

Leaders have to move self and others ahead which is only possible if he/she can make the decisions. Time is of essence when in crisis and a decisive leader is always more effective than the one who is not able to take decisions.

4. Agility: 
“Strength without agility is a mere mass” – Fernando Pessoa
Crisis requires leaders to be agile and nimble. When a leader makes a decision and it turns out to be sub-optimal, there is no time for a lot of analysis or feeling disappointed. The leader has to quickly make the next move and with a mindset that a quick maneuvering will be required again, sooner than later.

Agility in action is important but agility in thinking is also important. A leader in crisis need to quickly come up with alternate scenarios and how to act in those scenarios. Keeping the mind sharp and nimble will help stimulate the thinking process.

5. Empathy:
“Leadership is about empathy. It is about having the ability to relate to and connect with people for the purpose of inspiring and empowering their lives.” — Oprah Winfrey

Everyone facing a crisis is looking for some hope that can keep them motivated. A crisis situation provides an opportunity for the Leader to communicate a shared vision for the future that can help unite people towards a common goal.

An important thing to remember is that these qualities of leadership do not work in a standalone space. They interact with each other and especially in a time of crisis one of these qualities may start looking more important than the other. The real test of leadership in crisis is ability to balance all five dimensions.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Rahul Gupta

Rahul is passionate about Strategy and Change Management. He has around 15 years of experience in Management Consulting, Business Transformation and driving Strategy and M&A across multiple industries, business domains, technologies & geographies. Rahul holds an MBA from XLRI and is a Gold Medalist in Engineering from Jadavpur University

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