12 Reasons Crisis Leadership Trumps Crisis Management

By Damian D. “Skipper” Pitts
Chair, Organizational Development, N2Growth

The media lives for a crisis, politicians look for ways to gain advantage in a crisis, and some businesses will even try and profit from a crisis. Everyone loves a crisis; except the unprepared who didn’t see it coming – those led straight into the proverbial brick wall by a leader who missed something they shouldn’t have. One thing is for sure – we’ll all be better off when leaders stop trying to manage a crisis and become more proficient at crisis leadership.

The key to not being caught flat-footed in a crisis is often found in a leader’s ability to understand the difference between Crisis Management and Crisis Leadership with respect to their effects on purpose and the future. In his latest book Hacking Leadership, Mike Myatt explains how aligning organizational purpose with strategic imperatives and operational focus is the key to exceptional performance. “This is what allows leaders to avert a crisis as opposed to getting sucked into a crisis,” said Myatt.

The significant differences between the two are mostly missed by leaders and herein lies the challenge. Crisis Management is all about leading through crises after they’ve already begun. Crisis Leadership, on the other hand, is ONLY about leading out from crises before it has a chance to begin. One is reactive, while the latter is preemptive. And, this is how leadership can take on a refreshed state of being; leaders must learn how to launch a preemptive strike against failure before it happens – this requires performance driven thinking, taking calculated risk, and being fully aware of the available resources to impact the Future Picture.

Crisis Leadership is grounded in a strong understanding of the complex relationships between organizations, their operating environments and the drivers – people – who are responsible for transitioning healthy momentum in the right direction to maximize the expected transformations it is designed to impact. It requires a leader to take a broad view, to involve the right people, with important information and perspectives, asking probing questions and facilitating effective and timely conversations. These leaders can then identify connections, patterns and key issues to do what is required to lead out from the potential for crises versus leading through during crises to achieve the defined objectives.

To catapult your level of performance driven thinking into a new hemisphere and begin thinking above the bar (away from the status quo) to impact your overall performance, consider these 12 key points about Crisis Leadership:

  1. Crisis Leadership is the result of more than three decades of research in looking at two types of crisis in organizational leadership and how to lead out from a crisis before it happens. 1) Sudden Crisis: Natural disasters, terrorist attacks, workplace violence, hostile takeovers, environmental spills, technology disruptions, etc. 2) Smoldering Crisis: Product defects, mismanagement, rumors and scandals, workplace safety, etc.
  2. Crisis Leadership is the simultaneous pursuit of differentiation and low risk.
  3. The aim of Crisis Leadership is not to LEAD THROUGH situations littered with volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, but to create new opportunities and possibilities by avoiding crises before they happen, thereby counteracting VUCA to LEAD OUT into strategically competitive and impactful futures.
  4. Crisis Leadership defines three key points to help leaders arrive at the RIGHT scenario: 1) a clear disciplined vision (targets are measurable with a success criterion), 2) a clear communication channel between leadership and the team on the ground, and 3) a clear presentation of team resources; talents, capabilities and any needs a team may have to complete its vision to impact the Future Picture.
  5. Crisis Leadership is NOT about having all of the answers, but strategically executing by asking the absolute RIGHT questions at the RIGHT time and for the RIGHT reasons.
  6. Crisis Leadership frameworks and tools provide direction using a Five W’s Agenda and directive: WHO will be impacted – benefited, limited or eliminated? WHAT are we applying our energy and resources against? WHERE are we going (your compass heading and end time)? WHEN do we plan to arrive (your Future Picture and desired effect/outcome)? WHY are we doing this (purpose)?
  7. These frameworks and tools are designed to be visual in order to not only effectively build the collective wisdom using edgy unconventional wisdom for the organization, but also allow for effective strategy execution through straightforward and effective communications.
  8. Crisis Leadership is a magnet for top talent and creates a culture of performance driven thinking all organizations need to accelerate results at every level. It targets real?world challenges unique to each level of emerging leadership – whether you’re just starting out or running a global organization.
  9. Crisis Leadership requires that you face the brutal facts about current conditions in order to focus on the elephant?in?the?room questions that seem to go unanswered and unaddressed.
  10. It is a strategy that supports the effective implementation of an organization’s business strategy that departs from the status?quo using edgy unconventional wisdom that is proven to deliver timely and effective results. And, its use allows leaders to gain the practical skills for diagnosing problems to create results?driven, action? oriented solutions early.
  11. While traditional leadership is innovatively structured on influence where constructs shape strategy (structuralist perspective), Crisis Leadership is empirically?based where strategy shapes structure (Reconstructionist viewpoint).
  12. As an integrated approach to strategy at the system level, Crisis leadership offers a different ‘way to play’ to develop and align the three strategic leadership perspectives: value proposition, Shared Consciousness and Purpose, and relationship proposition (understanding of the complex relationship between the organization and its environment).

Ultimately, Crisis Leadership is an organizational and personal process, and it is one that today’s leaders and businesses cannot afford to ignore any longer. It is strategic, and the job of strategy is not limited to a select few, but to everyone.

Crisis Leadership calls upon everyone to form their own opinion before moving towards the objective to strategically and flawlessly execute in order to arrest challenges and problems that fester within the environment’s existing conditions. It inspires Shared Consciousness and Purpose throughout our ranks of leadership to help  leaders adapt, innovate and succeed while making an impact on their Future Picture for all.

Achieving an improved promise on the future means that some things must change and change today. We cannot wait any longer; the bull has to be taken by the horns to steer good to great, loss to gain, and failure to success. Crisis Leadership will bankrupt Crisis Management one day if leaders are willing to adopt it into their arsenal of practices to inspire improvement and Shared Consciousness and Purpose across their communities, environments and organizations.

Achieving this trait in leadership would mean that levels of transparency and inclusiveness across communities, environments and organizations will be shared based on informed perspectives. Accordingly, allowing everyone to have access to all of the same information, not to draw the same conclusions, but to have all of the pieces of the puzzle and the combined wisdom, would give them the opportunity to no longer be dependant upon one single person or a few people to direct forward movement as summarized and talked about by Stanley McChrystal.

In other words, Crisis Leadership develops a sense of common ownership and responsibility while building better futures for a clearly defined and understood mission – this is not an idea to be tested, but a significant idea to be placed into practice and considered by everyone.


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