• bwmdentsu

Leadership and management during a crisis

Updated: Aug 28



Countries and companies alike have spent the last couple of months trying to adapt in order to survive. We have witnessed wildly different displays of management and change. So what are some of the rules that keep bubbling to the top that can guide us towards positive change?


Acting with speed

Nobl calls it 'Triage', "In the name of business continuity, how can we urgently create a level of stability and reduce unnecessary uncertainty during this crisis?". Here they have identified that time-lining and the creation of faster decision making processes are necessary in order to make critical calls effective.

But speed doesn't have to mean perfection.


The Harvard Business Review highlights the reality that the sacrifice you make for speed, is often flawlessness. We need to act quickly but be comfortable that certain mistakes will be made - accepting that this is a necessary but worthwhile payoff.


Of course making decisions fast is not a simple task, especially when they carry significant weight. Timed frameworks like this one provide useful guidance in consciously moving through any emotional blockages that might hinder important and rapid progression.


Distribution of power

Good leaders know that they stand for a community, and it is that community both needs answers, and contains the experts that can answer them.


HBR states that leaders should "empower the front line to make decisions where possible, and clearly state what needs to be escalated, by when, and to whom. Your default should be to push decisions downward, not up".

Similarly Nobl talks to 'dispersed control' as "power is exercised through coalition, not mandates". "We must move away from the "great man" theory of leadership, to one that embraces coalition building and a focus on communities".


Interestingly we have seen different political leaders show very different approaches in this regard. At a time where COVID-19 was becoming extremely unsettling for citizens Jacinda Ardern held a press conference announcement where she provided ample time for questions on March 23. The next day Boris Johnston broadcast a pre-recorded instructional video, with no opportunity for public interaction.



Behave as you ask others to

As this crisis unfolds people are bound to the rules laid down upon them, whether that be bosses at work or their broader community leaders. Leaders must demonstrate a commitment to the values that underpin these rules by themselves acting in the way that they ask their people.


Hypocrites include:

Aston Villa Captain Jack Grealish who posted to social media asking fans to 'stay home' only hours before drunkenly crashing his Range Rover into parked cars, allegedly on the way home from a party.


Victoria's own Warrnambool Mayor Tony Herbert copped a $1652 fine after a passerby took a photo of him drinking with two others outside a local pub. Again, the mayor had publicly requested that people follow the rules he was later caught breaking.


Ivanka Trump who "has positioned herself as one of the leaders of the administration’s economic relief efforts and one of its most vocal advocates of social distancing". Was recently caught flying between homes in Washington to New Jersey in order to celebrate passover.


Engaging with empathy

Crisis management largely assumes that some people are suffering. "Compassion goes a long way during turbulent times". Empathy throughout such a time is crucial and can be a make or break for how leaders and other individuals are received, both during and post-crisis.

This might be as simple as acknowledging how difficult a situation is for your people or as hard as creating a "humane restructuring process". It might mean trying to access different news sources to ensure you aren't cycling through your own ideas and beliefs, as this might lead to reinforced biases.

Again in vast contradiction we have political leaders at either end of the spectrum. While Trump brags that his televised briefings had ratings that rivalled the bachelor, Jacinda Ardern again, made headlines for the right reasons. Not only has she showed that she's thinking of the children effected by declaring the tooth fairy and easter bunny essential workers, she recently announced a 20% pay cut in order to show solidarity with those whose wages have been damaged or destroyed.

"Empathy in times of crisis is not some altruistic add-on. It is the manner by which a nation’s suffering is given purpose, and a method of assuring the vulnerable they won’t be forgotten."



Zara Cooper

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