How Will You Lead When the Big Crisis Hits?

By Desda Moss Feb 24, 2016
crisis.jpgAs an HR leader, how will you respond when a “rogue wave” hits? In their new book, Navigating an Organizational Crisis: When Leadership Matters Most (Praeger, 2016), authors Harry Hutson and Martha Johnson define a rogue wave as “a massive organizational crisis that is spontaneous, sudden and significant.”

It’s also the kind of tsunami that every leader these days can expect to face. With crisis becoming the “new normal,” even experienced leaders need guidance on managing through turbulence.
Hutson and Johnson are leadership coaches with decades of experience as executives in the public and private sectors. Drawing from a variety of social science research, interviews and personal experience, they explore the humanistic and personal challenges of crisis leadership in their book.
“Crisis demands much from a leader but not necessarily from one’s known bank account of skills and competences. It is a humbling thing to be, in a very public way, in charge but unable to be in control, and when logistic, operational, and reactive muscles cannot pull the weight,” Hutson and Johnson write.
Their book details how leaders under intense pressure reach deep down into themselves in order to find a way forward. Each chapter shares stories and case studies ranging from directors at small nonprofits dealing with tragedy to corporate executives being suddenly thrust into the spotlight (a Louisiana business post-Hurricane Katrina, for example). The authors cull revelations and identify patterns of how leaders can recognize and best apply their internal strengths.
“In light of current crisis events, even experienced, practiced leaders can easily get in their own way. When they override their values and higher selves in urgency or even panic, they make things worse. That’s where we can help,” Hutson says.
Among the lessons the book shares:
-- Faced with a rogue wave, leaders must promptly name it and face it. Any stalling undermines their leadership.

-- Resilience can be improved, but it is leaders’ “pre-resilience” that truly buttresses their effectiveness.

-- “Helpful help” is hard for leaders who are focused on self-control to grasp, but it is essential in recovery and support.

-- A leader’s skills and willingness to create meaning through storytelling is crucial in setting the organization up for the future.

-- The journey from organizational crisis to leadership maturity follows a pattern: Respond, Reflect, Reach, Restore, Renew.
“Leaders we interviewed told organizational disaster stories as if they happened yesterday. No one needed a calendar to puzzle together the details of the events. They became self-reflective. ... Organizational crisis had intensified their awareness, shifted their assumptions about themselves, and uncovered deeper questions,” the authors write.

Harry Hutson, Ph.D., is an independent consultant who coaches leaders, designs and delivers leadership development initiatives, and writes about leadership.
Martha Johnson, MBA, @marthanjohnson on Twitter, is an author, speaker and consultant with a 35-year career in public and private organizations.

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