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Teaching to Lead in Extreme Situations

Teaching to Lead in Extreme Situations

In today’s interconnected world, a disaster in one region has the potential to affect people and institutions in another region. So it is in business. An emerging set of skills is required to lead during critical times in our organizations. Sometimes these environments are characterized by VUCA, a military term that stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. There are many lessons to learn from leading and learning in extreme situations.

Take a look at this chart from Harvard Business Review. This chart maps the characteristics of VUCA by looking at how well a leader can predict the outcomes of a specific action against how much they know of the situation. Good global leaders know that in uncertain times, it is best to have a diverse set of eyes on the problem to draw from experiences of the team. Below, we look at the different aspects of VUCA and how to ensure an aware and ready team.

Volatility: Dealing With the Nature and Dynamics of Change

A major 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal on April 25, 2015, killing more than 8,600 people and injuring more than 23,000. Hundreds of thousands of others were left homeless and in utter devastation in Nepal, India, Bangladesh and on the border of China. To add to the fear and catastrophe of those living in the area and their loved ones abroad, an aftershock measuring 7.3 in magnitude struck Kathmandu and Mt. Everest. This triggered an avalanche and ultimately killed 200 people including 17 climbers and injured 61 people on the mountain with many more stranded with no food, water, shelter or medical supplies, according to CNN.

On a smaller scale but no less devastating, Texas and Oklahoma suffered deadly floods in May 2015 that left 44 people dead, each with their own unique heart-wrenching stories. There was so much damage and so many lives affect that President Barack Obama signed a disaster declaration, ordering federal aid for those affected by the floods. Terribly, there are many more floods, tornados and wild fires affecting areas of the country that will also need proper aid and leadership attention.

Prepare for crisis on your team or your industry. Have a backup plan and a backup for the backup. Great leaders don’t just plan the party for the celebration of things done right. They also rehearse for thing that can go wrong.

Uncertainty: the Element of Surprise

The skills that are required to manage in catastrophes are sometimes different from those required to manage in times of peace and calm. However, global leaders would do well to review some traits needed to advance organizations during crisis in the 21st century. Great leadership can lessen the effect when crisis occurs in an organization: “…Natural disasters call on all of a person’s leadership skills. And good leadership requires delegation and dissemination of responsibility.”

Build a strong culture of collaboration and empathy. Know your team and help them to know one another so when uncertainty arises, they can trust the bonds that have been made. In general, people prefer to work with others whom they know and respect. Spend time with leaders on your team individually learning their strengths and opportunities for development. Instill in the collective team a no-quit attitude that keeps them moving forward together.

Complexity: Interdependence of Multiple Forces and People in an Organization

Making decisive actions, communicating and collaborating with diverse skill sets, and people helps us lead better in times of crisis and to gain significant competitive advantages. Global leaders build productive relationships with people in the organization — within and across teams before a crisis strikes. It takes a team to endure a crisis or disaster in an organization. Many of us agree that it is vital for leaders to build trust on their team so that when a crisis strikes, employees trust the instructions and direction coming from their leaders. Acting as a team with the company’s shared vision and mission for success are vital.

Equip and train leaders to confidently engage their teams to problem solve. When circumstances are difficult, poor leaders who haven’t been tested fail to step up and lead. Leaders who are faced with unknown or ambiguous circumstances might clam up when they lack proper training for varying situations.

Ambiguity: Misunderstanding or Misinterpretation of a Situation or Information

Delegate and disseminate information responsibly. With the lack of information, people will find misinformation to spread. It is important to become clear on your purpose and the company’s mission as you move forward as if success is imminent. Employees and customers take their cues from fearless and fearful leaders alike. Aspire to be the leader who makes a significance difference as you instill confidence in your team and focus on crisis-prevention. Forrester observes that while it is the anticipators who deserve credit for disaster averted, it is the disaster managers who attract the attention : “People, politics, and the press are more excited about the hero who copes with a disaster than the people who quietly prevent it.” It is through dealing with ambiguity that the crisis in many cases gets averted.

Does your current corporate curriculum for leaders include training that simulates disaster or crisis in or around your business? Do you have a variety of leaders available to help make decisions when they count most?

Perhaps there’s something to be said for managing this way at all times instead of the strict command and control in times when there is no crisis to ward off.

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