Are You a Good Crisis Leader or Prosperity Leader?

The different criteria for crisis vs. prosperity leadership styles

Posted Nov 05, 2012

Seven years ago, I gave an international talk on crisis management to a group of national managers with an expertise in security. One of the attendees asked me if there were any psychological tests that could help predict which leaders would operate effectively in a critical situation and which wouldn't. My reply was that there was no such test. She insisted: couldn't Myers-Briggs help predict who would sink or swim in a crisis? I started to explain other more effective ways when someone else in the group interjected. One of our top leaders said he had been groomed to prepare for catastrophes all his life and, when catastrophe hit, he blanked and couldn't think. Everyone was quiet. He said that during the catastrophe, his boss looked him straight in the eye and gave him very clear, straight-to-the-point orders: A, B, and C, and he was able to snap out of his dazed state going into action.

The skills a leader needs in order to guide people during a crisis are different from the skills needed to help a group grow. Some leaders have a flexible style, allowing them to execute one or another style depending on each situation. However, most people tend to prefer one or the other style, either a leader in the face of crisis or a leader who helps a group to grow and prosper. There is no right or wrong, the only problem is to expect a leader whose strength is to operate during a crisis to be able to grow a company or organization.

Excellent leaders in crises show these characteristics:

1. Fast and clear grasp of the situation: This leader tends to look at the problem with a 360 approach and know, almost in the blink of an eye, what’s going on. He or she knows what to do and takes charge of what needs to be done without hesitation.

2. Resolve: In critical situations, these leaders evaluate options but realize time is of the essence. They can’t obsess about all the possible options but instead need to make the best decision in a limited amount of time.

3. Clear communication: They communicate succinctly and effectively about what needs to be done to resolve the crisis and they don't spend too much time explaining the “why’s” or the “how’s.” These leaders enter “giving directions” mode, often telling everyone what their role is, what the desired goal or accomplishment is, and the deadline in which the job needs to get done.

4. Don't dwell on why things happened: During a crisis, there is little time to blame others for what has already happened. Because his is a time for action to resolve the problem, there is always time to debrief and find the lessons learned after overcoming the problem.

5. Commanding presence: When these leaders take over, there is little hesitation as to whether or not to follow the leader. People know that their leader is resolved and has the ability to follow a specific critical thinking process with clarity and leadership.

Excellent leaders in times of growth show these characteristics:

1. Provide time to evaluate the current situation and different opportunities to grow: These leaders are not pressed for time, so these leaders may take a bit longer to look at all the possibilities and opportunities.

2. Seek consensus: In times of growth and prosperity, great leaders will create groups of thought leaders to offer ideas and will benefit from joining forces with others to come up with the best options and opportunities to grow. Sometimes, this leader’s style may allow for consensus to rule the group, but sometimes this style will instead rely on more people to offer options for the leader to choose from, options that the leader would not have been able to produce on his or her own.

3. Clarity of mission and vision: While a great leader in a crisis is super-focused on resolving the crisis, making this their immediate mission and vision for the future, does not operate the same way a Prosperity Leader does. A leader whose task is to grow has a clear mission of what’s happening in the present and a clear vision of what needs to be accomplished as a desired future. The leader may be involved to the tiniest detail (as Steve Jobs was) or may operate by delegating and checking on accomplishments on a regular basis. Bringing a sense of urgency without being a critical situation can add stamina to the final objective.

4. Time to plan: An excellent leader who knows how to grow can lay out a clear vision and suggest clear strategies, tactics, and activities to accomplish the overall goal. They will help others own the process so that everyone is involved and actively participates in achieving that goal, including the how’s and why’s of a project.

5. Time to delegate: Although the buck ends with both leaders, a leader who focuses on growth has time to delegate and make delegates responsible for outcomes, whereas the crisis leader doesn't have time to delegate certain tasks and requires communication from delegates almost immediately.

How about you? Have you been a leader who’s mostly operated in crisis mode or have you been a leader who has helped your company or organization grow? Have you ever been in a crisis and what was your operating style? Do you know how to groom additional leadership qualities to become a better leader?

About the Author

Gabriela Cora, M.D., M.B.A.

Gabriela Cora, M.D., M.B.A., hosts Dr. Gaby's Take: Make Life Interesting. She’s a medical doctor with a master's in business administration.

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