The DeBoer Fellowship recommends this article, “Are You Leading through the Crisis…or Managing the Response?” by Harvard Business Review (HBR) where authors Eric J. McNulty and Leonard Marcus advise leaders against four common mistakes when leading through crises. HBR is a publication associated with Harvard University and widely recognized as a global thought leader on general management practices.
Crises like the COVID-19 pandemic come with a lot of complexity and change. Executives must learn to “both lead and manage effectively.” In a fast-paced environment, decisions and actions must be made quickly to address needs of the present. This is managing in crises. Beyond meeting the immediate needs, leading others means guiding people to the “best possible eventual outcome” over time. Leading involves anticipating “the next three, four, or five obstacles” after the immediate circumstances.
“Through their research, they have observed that the best leaders navigate challenging situations, energize their organizations, and inspire communities.”
While effective leadership involves both leading and managing, Eric J. McNulty and Leonard Marcus have found that “crises are most often over-managed and under-led.” Through their research, they have observed that the best leaders navigate challenging situations, energize their organizations, and inspire communities. They have identified four leadership traps that many leaders fall into during a crisis:
1. Taking a Narrow View – In the face of a threat, humans turn to survival instincts and naturally narrow focus to the immediate circumstances. Leaders must fight that urge and “intentionally pull back…taking a broad, holistic view of both challenges and opportunities.” This enables leaders to manage more effectively.
2. Getting Seduced by Managing – Leaders, especially those who have “risen up through an organization or in a single industry” get a thrill from managing a crisis, making decisions, taking actions, and feeling the added “tangible value.” This can get leaders caught up in the cycle of managing operations rather than strategically anticipating the future. Leaders need to be preparing the organization for changes ahead – “what comes next week, next month, and even next year.”
McNulty and Marcus recommend to leaders “need to delegate and trust your people as they make tough decisions, providing proper support and guidance based on your experience while resisting the temptation to take over.” When there is no trust, senior executives often resort to micro-managing responses which disrupts and undercuts response managers “operating rhythm.”
McNulty and Marcus recommend to leaders “need to delegate and trust your people as they make tough decisions, providing proper support and guidance based on your experience while resisting the temptation to take over.”
3. Over-centralizing the Response – In the middle of a lot of “risk and ambiguity,” leaders must resist the urge to create “new layers of approval for minor decisions” as an attempt to control everything. These new layers of approval often prevents the organization from being as quickly responsive and often frustrates colleagues and employees.
4. Forgetting the Human Factors – Leaders can sometimes fall into the trap of being consumed with measuring tangibles – “share price, revenue, costs” – while forgetting to value and recognize these are the “outcome of the coordinated efforts of people.” Crises by nature affect people. Organizations consist of a group of individuals who are able “to accomplish together things that individuals cannot do alone.” As such, when crises occur, leaders must tend to the human implication of the impact.
“…when crises occur, leaders must tend to the human implication of the impact.”
McNulty and Marcus recommend that leaders unify employees in their work and goals “as valued members of a cohesive team” and to set a clear mission that ensures “each person understands how they can contribute” to the broader organizational purpose.
While managing the immediate concerns at the onset of a crisis is important, leaders must avoid the common mistakes of over-managing and under-leading. The article proposes that “the most effective leaders in crises ensure that someone else is managing the present well while focusing their attention on leading beyond the crisis toward a more promising future.”
About DeBoer Fellowship
The DeBoer Fellowship develops change leaders across all sectors of Myanmar society. Through a multi-year training class and additional public programs, the DeBoer Fellowship serves Myanmar by helping to grow competent, compassionate, and ethical leaders. For more information about DeBoer Fellowship or to apply for the Fellowship, please visit: www.deboerfellowship.org.