Saturday, December 13, 2008

Leadership: Never Waste A Crisis

Despite all the different issues that top leaders are facing, there is a commonality to great leaders in times like these. It can be summed up in the phrase used by Rahm Emanuel, Obama's Chief of Staff-designate, Never waste a crisis.

None of us yet know how hard the economic challenges are going to be, in 2009. But beyond the current events lies interesting opportunities.

What steps can leaders take to move on the opportunities, while at the same time paying attention to all the demands of the moment? What can great leaders do to move decisively forward in a world turned upside down?

First, figure out how to survive. Given that, leaders need a plan that allows them to move fast, faster than before.

Many economies either didn't see or didn't believe common metrics of economic and financial distress before the recent crash and crisis. What metrics should a leader be looking at now? Which ones from the past still give useful leading indicators? What else might leaders need to look at?

Leaders need to be systematic and transparent about balancing optimism with realism in the current plan for economic stimulation.

A good leader must increase his or her forums for listening at the edges, for creative dissent. The leader must ensure that he or she has an inner circle of people who will never allow the leader to fall into the destructive cycle of hubris and denial.

Second, the leader needs to ask what can be done now that couldn't be done before. This is the crux of successfully taking advantage of a world turned upside down. How can the leader position himself or herself now, so that he or she will be better off than before, once the turmoil is over?

Does the current turmoil accelerate and even necessitate major shifts in tactics and strategies in the next 12 months--shifts that better position the whole party or organisation but would have been impossible to execute just six months ago?

Does this crisis allow the leader to dramatically improve loyalty? Are there things the party or organisation can do that will make a difference to people caught in these difficult times?

And within the leader's own organization, is the leader facing squarely how quickly the dynamics of talent retention have changed?

What might a good leader do differently to increase the party or organisation's talent base?

The leader needs to ask himself or herself: Might this be a time to promote some of the best high potential people, without worrying if someone else feels passed by?

This is an opportunity for the leader to reorient the party and organization around value, in terms of roles and responsibilities.

No whining. The leader may find himself or herself thinking, more than once, I didn't create this crisis. Why me? Why should I be stuck with dealing with it?

It's very tempting to feel aggrieved, but, instead, the leader should step back and ask himself or herself in the truest spirit of Norman Vincent Peale, Why not me?

Leaders in crisis put aside that very understandable anger and instead are glad, even honored, that they are in a position to respond to a once-in-a-lifetime set of circumstances.

The leader needs to remember that the people around him or her may be dealing with the fallout of the crisis in many ways that may not be visible. The leader needs to have compassion for them, and mitigate their hardships with opportunity, inspiration and the call to hard work.

Beyond this crisis is a new landscape, one that will define the arcs of opportunity and prosperity for decades to come.

The leader needs to uncover the opportunities that reach beyond survival, guide the country, economy or organisation to get there and extend a helping hand to as many as possible along the way.

The costs of the economic turmoil are high--way too high to go to waste.

P.S. The above may also be applicable to political turmoils.


Ridzzy said...

Salam de minimis,

Yet another thought provoking post. Thanks for sharing.

But to me the first rule of being a leader..;
"First, figure out how to survive."

..when applied to politics is counter productive for the nation as whole. Because there are many times when i had just wished that leaders of our country woould have the guts to do what is right instead of doing what needs to be done for their political survival . I believe that sometimes one needs to be cruel to be kind..

but thats just me :)

de minimis said...

salam Ridzzy

Your reptilian mind has Machiavellian characteristics, eh? :D

For me, any type of leader needs to be sincere. Speak the truth. Set a clear set of achievable tactical goals. Set long term strategic goals which the tactical goals are components of.

After that, be firm. Communicate, communicate and communicate. Let everyone understand their respective roles. Make them stick to the goals. Makes sure you can measure their performance and targets. Follow-up, follow-up and follow-up. Don't just talk and then forget.

A leader must always project clarity and certainty.

Tun Razak comes to my mind on the above matters.

walla said...

Indeed it was Bennis who had said that while managers are people who do things right, leaders are people who do the right things.

For that they will need to master contexts, and develop what Adair had identified as juggling skills to balance the three imperatives of achieving envisioned objectives, building action teams and developing future leaders, thereby committing people to action, converting followers to leaders, and transforming leaders into change agents.

Right now, leaders all over the world must be respectively huddling down to think what to do next in the midst of the big global economic upheaval that threatens to engulf all. While it is certainly a crisis in any name, it is also an opportunity to trigger transformations. You just need to stay the course and develop strategic clarity while nursing a hangover from last night's binge.

A crisis can be useful. For one, it can embolden people to tell unpleasant truths which have been hidden for past feel-good purposes. Since the situation is already stiflingly bad, admitting something unpleasant won't be seen as making it any worse. In fact, this is a good tactic to generate a key element to clamor for change - stakeholder power. By saying it as it is, people who have been kept in the dark will come together to create a critical mass of stakeholder pressure that will provide fresh impetus to make deep and widespread changes that can break from the past whose systemic defects are causing present exposures and debilitation.

Not just for new levels of inclusiveness, crises can also open up boxes for cleverer ideas. You are going to see new waves of mergers, acquisitions and divestitures across the corporate globe in addition to new business and operating models, new vistas of cooperation and coopetition. And while at it, don't discount yet more outsourcing and shared services to chase lowest costs in order to keep enterprises alive on reduced budgets so as to build new revenue streams to fund future local developments. The public sector and GLCs too should consider the rationale behind these trends ahead of any immediate calling for them. In other word, pro-act.

Which comes to the point that governments tend to react. In the light of what has been happening - from natural to man-made disasters - is that smart? If the answer is no, some things can be done. Prioritize the tasks ahead into three cells. One, past transgressions and mistakes go to one cell. Two, present exigencies go to another cell. Three, transformational strategies and frameworks go to the third cell. Then challenge the tactical group to one task - funnel all three cells in such a way one set of solutions can solve all three sets of challenges.

One suspects there will be underpinning thrusts needed. Good leaders are the ones who will rise to the occasion by articulating the new identities that their nations and corporations must take to meet headlong the three cellular challenges. If old ways have been found wanting, embrace new ways. If assumptions about destabilizing situations have only led to self-fulfilling prophecies, adopt pragmatism. If policies have created more problems, wing in changes carried on constant reminders to stakeholders about what are really important to them - no more the affectations of political or primal agendas to keep the status quo of yesteryear.

Create THE new Malaysian.

The crisis before us presents an opportunity to reshape political considerations using new molds of economic solutions. Currently there is a bottleneck in the mind. If we can but stop a minute to think of Malaysia not as a country but as a concept, for instance, perhaps that might throw up cleverer ideas of how to get out of that bottleneck in the mind so that the traffic will flow more smoothly to lead to new gates of freedom from all the past anxieties and difficulties which have beset our peoples.

Malaysia as a concept more than a country, economic solutions that will reshape political landscapes as well, cleverer ways to bypass old assumptions that have to-date only locked us in to repeated problems which have only enchained our people from achieving their highest potential, in turn this nation's fullest aspirations - indeed, these are visions which the next batch of leaders in our midst can conjure to revivify our nation.

Indeed, if we waste this crisis, we may live to regret seeing our future generations face theirs.

'walla' ;P

walla said...


A good leader listens to a different pied piper...

(credit to another seminal blogger)

de minimis said...


Who is Bennis? Who is Adair? You've got to take us mere mortals by the hand and lead us gently into your rarefied intellectual realm, you know :D

walla said...

Warren Bennis

John Adair

The last time i took someone by the hand she....

oh, ne'er mind, deminimis... ;P