Posted by Steve Botham
October 14th, 2008 | 2 Comments »
We are in unchartered waters. Very few leaders in organisations have experienced the huge uncertainty and pressures facing us in these current times and their leadership may well be defined by how they respond. Staff, clients, stakeholders will judge leaders by the quality of decisions they make in these circumstances. But decisions alone will not deliver success – success will come from the commitment, confidence and belief you generate. Leaders will need to manage communication with great wisdom.
Churchill led the British people in a time of great crisis – one that makes the current economic problems seems very mild in comparison. As the newly appointed premier at a time when the nation was reeling from the fall of France and the traumas of Dunkirk, and before the United States entered the war, he decided not to make peace with Germany – which many people, including senior cabinet members, wanted. He took the difficult message to the British people that “we shall fight them on the beaches …. we shall never surrender”. He persuaded a reluctant audience to carry on – despite the high personal cost.
In using his great communication skills to shape his leadership he followed in the steps of his mentor and friend the famous Welsh orator David Lloyd George who became Prime minister in the middle of World War One and used his great communication capacity to give confidence and hope to a nation that was traumatised by the heavy losses of life on the Western Front.
Sir Ernest Shackleton was a man with a plan – he aimed to cross the Antarctic with his crew supported by the ship Endeavour. The plan needed to be abandoned and re formed when his ship and crew became trapped on the ice floes for almost two years. Remarkably by great leadership and personal courage Shackleton brought everyone home. He describes his approach to communication –
“When crisis strikes, immediately address your staff. Take charge of the situation, offer a plan of action, ask for support, and show absolute confidence in a positive outcome.”
“Give your staff an occasional reality check to keep them on course. After time people will start to treat a crisis situation as business as usual and lose their focus.”
“Ask for advice and information from a variety of sources, but ultimately make decisions based on your best judgement”
You do not need to have the eloquence of Churchill or the driving bravery of a Shackleton to lead in times of crisis – but you do need to be clear, to listen well, to engage everyone who is affected and install confidence. How you do it is down to you. Those who put their heads down and hope the problems, stress and uncertainty will go away give a poor lead. We have seen in the stock market that support goes up and down dependent on confidence in the market. You need to deliberately install confidence in your team – based on realities and clear decisions – when they have that confidence your staff and stakeholders will invest in you.