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We have all heard a good deal over the years about “crisis management.” Crisis management often treats a disruption or unexpected event as something to be “managed” in such a way that minimizes harm to the organization. It often begins with denial or even minimizing the event:
- “It’s nothing. Don’t worry about it.”
- “People are exaggerating the situation.”
- “It’s not that bad.”
- “It will all be over soon.”
However, in times of a real crisis such as war, financial meltdown, or pandemic, leadership—not simply management—is required. Real leaders don’t deny, deceive, or deflect. We believe, more specifically, that Positive Influence Leadership is necessary in times of crisis.
Positive Influence Leaders Are Supportive.
They are not cheerleaders who tell everyone that it’s going to be fine. They are, however, calm and confident and, most of all, truthful. They make it clear that, while this may be a long-term battle, we are in this fight together and “I have your back.”
Leaders like David Gibbs, CEO of Yum Brands (KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell), just recently made it very clear to their millions of customers and thousands of franchisees around the world that they are “open for business” and well-positioned for this crisis because they long-ago perfected “contactless” delivery, drive-thru, and carry-out. This is the kind of supportive leadership people need to hear right now
Positive Influence Leaders Are Teachers.
They listen to your concerns. They understand your needs. They provide the information and knowledge you need in order to deal with the crisis. In an attempt to “manage” the crisis, managers often give out confusing and sometimes conflicting information. The most effective positive influence leaders have the knowledge that we all need to get through the crisis; and, perhaps more importantly, they have an ability to communicate that information in a way that we can all understand.
Dr. Deborah Birx, a key member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force and a well-respected global health expert, has what has been described as “that essential and rare skill, which is the ability to explain really complicated, fairly technical, scary health situations in a way that ordinary people can hear and say, ‘I understand, and she’s speaking to me.’” She exemplifies what it means to be a teaching style positive influence leader.
Positive Influence Leaders Are Motivators.
They see that something special in you that may not have even been apparent to you. They provide you with the freedom to do your job without micro-managing, because they provide a clear statement of the goal and then get out of the way, allowing you the freedom to figure out how to get it done. And lastly, they give you access to the resources you need to do the job and empower you to act while making it clear, “I’m here if you need me.”
Andrew Cuomo, Governor of New York, the epicenter of the U.S cases of the coronavirus, has spoken directly to the people of the state, asking that they practice sensible sanitation and limit contact with others, especially in groups, because as he said, “We need everyone to be safe, or no one can be safe.” He has motivated the state bureaucracy to cooperate, has used state labs for testing, has forced local officials to close schools and offices, and gotten the military to create more hospital beds to treat virus patients. During this scary time, we need motivators who are going to go to bat for us. Governor Cuomo is doing this for his state.
Positive Influence Leaders Are Role Models.
They can be a powerful force from whom you can learn how to do things “the right way.” You can choose to closely emulate a person you admire or you can simply extract certain traits and integrate them with your style. A role model can also be someone whom you’ve never met, but have admired from afar.
Taiwan’s Vice President, Chen Chien-jen, is an epidemiologist with a doctorate from Johns Hopkins. Under his leadership, when the COVID-19 outbreak in neighboring China first became known to the WHO, Taiwan established a national command center to coordinate all government efforts. They quickly began testing patients for coronavirus; established a toll-free number to encourage citizens to report cases; instituted land and sea border controls, active case finding, and quarantine of people with suspected infection; and ensured the health system had the necessary resources to manage patients with the disease.
In a time of crisis—war, financial, or medical—Positive Influence Leadership is essential. Whether you are trying to ensure that your teams know you are all in this together, or you are trying to model leadership behavior for an entire country, we all need a leader that is going to have our back and model behavior in a positive way.
As Abraham Lincoln said a very long time ago:
“I am firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the facts.”
For more stories of positive influence and how you can become a positive influence leader, pick up a copy of our new book, Positive Influence: The Who Helps People Become the Best Self (HRD Press, 2020).