In my coaching practice, I encounter executives who are confronting unexpected crises, some which even threaten the ongoing sustainability of their businesses. The pressures on these leaders are great. They feel an urgency to act - quickly - to mitigate the risk to their organizations; and, longer term, to implement strategies and tactics to avoid any recurrence. They also feel compelled to be seen by their superiors, boards, markets to be on “top” of the situation. They feel their careers depend on successfully dealing with the problem; and most often they are right. Typically, these leaders’ instincts are to rush to action. I can relate to such scenarios, having managed similar situations during my career.
Avoiding the rush to action doesn’t mean inaction. Rather, it means recognizing that the risk of acting, or more accurately over-reacting, hurriedly to a crisis is significant. Without taking sufficient time to properly analyse the nature of the crisis (notably its often complex root causes, along with its immediate and future impact on the business), leaders frequently repeat the same actions that were effective in the past, but which are no longer so today. The title of Marshall Goldsmith’s celebrated book: What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There (2010) comes to mind. In rushing to action, it is difficult to be fully aware of the contextual reality of the current, evolving, situation. Successful leaders know this frequently leads to mistakes, leading sometimes to disastrous consequences; and they act accordingly.
In times of crises, the most successful executives are calm, alert, attentive, self-aware and highly inquisitive. By resisting the rush to action, they purposefully separate the veils of their routine activities. They purposefully set aside personal and corporate biases, and are open to new outcomes. They distinguish the unimportant from the important and urgent. They are focused on what truly matters. Their visions are fresh. Beyond the ordinary, these leaders see new possibilities and the potential for the extraordinary. This often fosters meaningful insights, which in turn lead to purposeful, actionable solutions and the lasting results their organizations require. Paradoxically, then, by avoiding the rush to action, these purposeful executives achieve effective, practical and lasting results more quickly.
Purposeful leaders are successful leaders. The effort required to achieve positive results should not be underestimated however. Niccolò Machiavelli said it well:
There is nothing more difficult to take in hand,
or more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain
in its success, then to take the lead in the
introduction of a new order of things.
Senior executives often lack an adequate support system. Many feel isolated, with almost no one to talk to openly on the significant business challenges they are facing. This is especially true for CEOs. With whom can they discuss their dealings with their direct reports, or with board members? And, to whom can they safely confide in about painful personal issues that are weighing heavily on them?
A good mentor or an experienced executive coach can offer valuable assistance by providing perspective, insights and feedback within a safe and confidential environment to assist executives to be the purposeful leaders their organizations require. Successful organizations see this as an investment well worth making.