Leadership in times of crisis
Leadership Coach, Front of Room Leader and Systemic Change Guide

In an increasingly complex world, appointed leaders simply don’t know enough to decide what is new and better. Leadership is a group sport, not an individual heroic activity.

Ed Schein

Faced with complex problems in uncertain and ambiguous situations, the best of leaders find themselves stuck in analysis paralysis.

Does that happen to you?

Perhaps you’re even struggling to come to terms with the insight that your company will not survive if you continue business as usual. You might feel responsible for your people and at the same time unclear about how to steer your company towards a sustainable modus operandi.

Most leaders struggle with publicly admitting that they don’t know how to figure out a problem on their own.

“It’s lonely at the top.”

This saying captures the common belief that at the top of the pyramid you cannot ask for help, lean into others, collaborate. You’re on your own. Leaders who are stuck in this traditional leadership model are unable to ask for help, and instead bury their heads in the sand. Stuckness can manifest itself as doing nothing or acting frantically.

The good news is that there are executives out there who have managed to transcend the paradigm of lonely leading at the top. And they pave the way by example.

Some leaders involve those affected into making decisions.

Even in a crisis.

Here’s an example for leadership as a group sport:

FAVI is a family owned French metal manufacturing company with 500 employees. It’s an automotive supplier. In 1990, FAVI was affected by the plummeting of car sales in the wake of the first gulf war. As stocks piled up and cash decreased, the company’s CEO Jean-François Zobrist had to downsize.

Due to French labour laws, the plant employed “temp workers”. The problem of cash flow and work scarcity could have been easily solved by letting them go, were it not for the breach of trust. Yet, in FAVI, those temp workers had traditionally been regarded as entry level workers who could count on transitioning to full contracts after a period of 18 months.

Zobrist didn’t know what to do to steer through the crisis.

Instead of deciding to fire the temps, he summoned everyone on the present shift to an all hands meeting – including the temp workers whose jobs were at stake. He shared the situation and then opened the floor for suggestions.

He invited EVERYONE to contribute.

People in the audience asked questions and made proposals, until one worker suggested that everyone could work 3 weeks a month, and go home with 3 weeks of pay, until the crisis was over.

Heads were nodding in the room, so this was put to a vote, a vote which turned out unanimous in favour of the proposition.

It took the gathering about one hour to resolve this issue.

Granted, this is radically shared leadership. And it takes guts to communicate “I don’t know what to do. Can you help me in working this out?” What’s equally daring is to invite everyone to participate in the decision making. Zobrist literally brought the whole system into the room, everyone who was there at that shift.

In other words, he did not call in senior leadership, but his workers: People whom many senior managers wouldn’t consider fit for responsible decision making, in other words, fit for leadership.

This is an example from one of the organisations which Frederic Laloux presented in his ground breaking book “Reinventing Organisations”.

Some organisations have been operating like this for more than 50 years.

Laloux found these companies across all industries, from the health to the automobile sector, from high to low tech.

Today, leaders face more chronic and severe problems than momentary dips in the market. The future of whole industries is uncertain. No one person has all of the answers. And the responsibility of getting it right causes many a sleepless night.

It’s not just time to invite others to contribute ideas.

It’s time to reframe leadership altogether in order to solve today’s wicked problems and make the transition to sustainable business and society:

Leadership today is a group sport.

Are you wondering how to access your people’s creativity and responsibility in order to solve the complex problems you are facing?

For leadership coaching and developement, get in touch

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