Managing in a Time of Crisis



James de Gaspé Bonar
Ph.D., CEC, PCC

March 29, 2020

Issue: Running a business is predicated on two things:
• Making decisions
• Executing the decisions made well

The importance of rational, effective decision making in a crisis cannot be overstated and the biggest impediments to making such decisions are risks and uncertainty. The breadth and depth of risks facing businesses today are immense. Profound disruptions resulting from technological innovation and the instantaneous dissemination of data and information are exacerbated by the global economic crisis caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. With so many critical corporate risks facing organizations, what mitigating strategies work best?

Current situation: As we attempt to navigate through this crisis, we find ourselves in unchartered waters. The acquisition and application of practical decision making skills matter now more than ever. There will be lasting impacts, both positive and negative, for each major decision made today. An organisation’s current situation is largely the result of key decisions made 24 to 36 months ago but survival requires that the right decisions be taken urgently. Time is the enemy, but we must choose wisely. Do we know how?

Moving forward: I have found in my work with leaders that the following skills are often more important than their credentials in managing sudden transformation:
  • Critical thinking: Ability to conceptualize, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate relevant information clearly and accurately.
  • Decision making: Quickly identifying and executing the best available option.
  • Improvisation: Creative, adaptive problem solving with available resources
  • Influencing others: Leadership is influencing. Successful leaders inspire others to willingly implement their ideas and execute their instructions.
  • Priority management: Setting clear priorities, direction and timelines. Knowing what needs to be done and when. Being committed, avoiding distractions and keeping a laser focus on the company, the customer and the competition.
These skills are essential, but the primary competency in successfully managing transformation during a crisis might surprise you: emotional intelligence.

The defense against these types of risk is emotional intelligence and mental balance, because the hardest challenges are psychological. EI allows you to reinvent yourselves and the organizations you lead by developing a more flexible and adaptive mind, and personality.

- Adapted from Yuval Noah Harari (2016)

Above, Harari is addressing disruptions to leaders caused by automation and AI. It is also relevant in assisting managers respond effectively to other monumental, unforeseen disruptions - such as pandemics. EI fosters abilities to assist managers in leading their direct reports and staffs in adapting to novel and evolving challenges. It enables them to reinvent themselves, build new cultures capable of surviving the crisis and ultimately to thrive.

If not now, when? Emotional intelligence is not a panacea to address all the risks we are facing. It can, however, be an effective tool to help leaders hone their awareness to identify and adapt to ever-changing circumstances. It enhances their flexibility to continually reinvent themselves and their organizations. It starts at the top. Leaders must reinvent themselves first, then their organizations. This is an imperative, not an option. The time to act is now.


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