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Lt. Col. Todd Henshaw (Ret.)

Lt. Col. Todd Henshaw (Ret.)

Todd Henshaw, a professor at Columbia University, is Academic Director of Wharton Executive Education. Previously, he directed the leadership program at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

The Measuring Stick

Crisis often acts as a measuring stick for effective leadership. When a crisis occurs, leaders will be able to discern whether they have invested the proper attention in building the trust, confidence and transparency necessary to successfully negotiate the uncertainty that often accompanies these events. When unforeseen events cause panic and fear, these effects are a result of uncertainty about our collective ability to navigate the rough waters, and to prevail over the difficulty: Can we do this? Will we prevail?

Psychologists once theorized that panic and fear caused the disintegration of groups responding to crisis (one example would be troops retreating, preserving self in the face of enemy fire rather than preserving the integrity of the unit). Freud posited the reverse, that panic and fear were actually caused by disintegration, the failure of the bonds that potentially hold groups together during challenge and instability. When these bonds are carefully nurtured and reinforced in "fair weather," they will surely pass the tests presented by crises. Leaders build these bonds through trust and confidence in their leadership and in the capacity of the organization to handle the crisis.

By Lt. Col. Todd Henshaw (Ret.)

 |  April 29, 2009; 11:14 AM ET
Category:  Managing Crises Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Shooting the Panicked Cow | Next: Military-Style Planning


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Detailed below are a few of my ideas as to what leaders can do in this Global Financial Crisis. Every single leader needs to stop and reflect and think about what they are really doing because it is so easy to think that working harder and harder is the answer, and it is certainly not the way-out.

No one wants to admit to being ineffective and certainly if you are a leader, you wouldn’t want to be bragging about it. However, even leaders have their limit and the constant rhetoric about the GFC is enough to take the wind out of anyone’s sail. There’s a never ending stream of it and every time you turn on the television, read a paper or listen to the radio you’re told how bad it is, that it is going to get much worse before it gets better and the likelihood of improvement in the near future, is not good.

It doesn’t matter how positive you are, when you hear this rhetoric over and over, it has an impact on the way you think and behave and it can render leaders ineffective. You can start to change the way you manage your people and in doing so can get on the slippery slope of managing by fear, instead of with confidence and clarity.

Your people are also listening and reading the same things as you are and they hear how many people were made redundant in the past week or month. Naturally they worry about whether their job will be in next week’s statistics. Whether or not this is even an issue in the organization doesn’t matter because anxiety and fear don’t produce rational thought or logical behaviour. They are reactions as opposed to well thought out responses. Fear is like a virus: it spreads through an organization without management, employees even knowing it is happening. At the helm, you need to know how effective you really are and aware if fear has surreptitiously crept under your radar and now entrenched.

Here are a couple of questions to assist you to identify what you are really doing as opposed to what you think you are doing.

• How is the current situation impacting you, your organization and people?
• Are the communication channels open between all levels?
• What are you telling your people? Are you talking in platitudes or are you telling them the cold, hard truth?
• Have you changed your management style unwittingly because of what’s happening in the wider world?
• Are your staff connected to the organizational goals or are they worried about the bigger picture?
• How’s your business and personal productivity going?
• Are you willing to do what is necessary to make sure that you thrive (whatever that means for you), until the GFC levels out?

When you have digested the above information and really taken stock of it, you have the opportunity to reflect on what you need to do to manage the GFC. When leaders have the courage to do this regularly and to implement whatever strategies necessary to achieve organizational goals - they can indeed be powerful leaders.

Posted by: IBCoaching | May 5, 2009 6:02 AM
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