How to Strengthen an Organization in Times of Crisis
PHOTO CREDIT: MIKE MADDOCK
The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity while the optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty. This article was written for optimists and contains the reminder that, in times of turmoil, you need to rely on both your IQ and EQ.
A few years ago, I was taking the relatively short flight from Denver to Aspen, Colorado, for a conference.
We were in a small jet climbing rapidly over the Rocky Mountains when the plane suddenly shook violently and plunged to a lower altitude. The pilots gunned the engines to maintain lift, but our free fall continued. At that moment, the flight attendant jumped up and grabbed the microphone.
“Everybody, look at me. PLEASE, look at me. This is normal. If I am not nervous, you don’t need to be nervous.” She smiled reassuringly, put down the microphone and retook her seat. Seconds later things were back to normal, and I was grateful that we had a flight attendant with the experience and empathy that the moment required.
My friend and leadership expert Christina Harbridge suggests that this is a great analogy for the kind of leadership our companies, teams and households need now. As leaders, we are being pressed in ways we have never experienced. Many of us are grappling with how best to handle the chaos of the moment.
Rahm Emanuel, the former mayor of Chicago, famously said, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” For leaders, this crisis is an opportunity to rise to an important challenge; and with that, here are two things to consider whenever your teams are confronted with chaos.
Be Aware of Your Success Formula
Leaders become leaders by relying on their proven success formulas. Common success formulas include problem-solving, persuasion and tenacity. Under pressure, we naturally go to the success formula that has worked for us in the past. For example, if your success formula is persuasion, you may be tempted to convince people that everything is going to be OK during a moment of chaos.
But what if your success formula isn’t what your organization needs at this moment? Or as my friend Marshall Goldsmith pointed out in his book of the same name, “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.” What if your success formula actually makes things worse for your friends, family and workmates?
We must be aware of our success formulas and when they are most and least effective. As leaders, we need to be careful that we are applying the right level of intelligence to the problems at hand.
And in my experience, there are at least two kinds of smart: IQ and EQ.
For those of us who rely primarily on IQ, we will naturally be thinking about how to best modify our company’s systems, staffing, processes and governance to deal with the falling revenues and loss in productivity brought on by COVID-19. Fair enough. These considerations are critical for the survival of our companies.
But leaders who rely primarily on EQ understand that profits and losses are not the things most of our employees will be thinking about first or even second, so our energy goes to how we can care for our work family in a way that makes them feel safe and secure in times of chaos. Like Maslow, we understand that the feelings of safety and trust make everything else possible—or impossible.
A common question these days is why the world is reacting so differently to COVID-19 than it did to the swine flue (H1N1 virus) and other health scares in the recent past. I will posit that we are reacting differently because of a lack of trust. We don’t trust our leaders or the systems they have put in place, resulting in unexpected reactions.
Ironically, what our teams and friends really need right now is a very stable genius. They need someone who can apply the right measure of IQ and EQ to this challenge.
So how do you lead differently? How do you lead better?
Start with EQ and then move to IQ.
The Compassion Buffet
Years ago, we asked a senior insurance executive to join our team. As we were getting ready to make her a job offer, I told her that I was concerned that we couldn’t get close to offering her what she was making at her previous employer—a ginormous firm. She responded by introducing me to the metaphor of a “compensation buffet,” explaining that there were all kinds of tasty things beyond a paycheck that we could offer. These included things like working from home, having time to write a book, learning, flextime, working on a variety of projects, title, a great team to manage….
During times of chaos, it is especially important to understand what our organizations are most hungry for and what they need to feel safe, productive and strong. I made the mistake of assuming money mattered most and was wrong. What assumptions are you making about what your teammates need?