Follow the leader, not the boss

On September 29, 2015

Every crisis team needs a good leader but sometimes this is the person you least expect.

A crisis simulation begins and like clockwork the group turns to the most senior staff member – their CEO – for direction and control. Without question, the CEO adopts the position of crisis team leader.

There is no discussion about this. For the CEO it is automatic, even instinctual. After all, they are the leader of the pack and with the confidence of a lion they take off through the jungle with their pride following behind.

At some point during the simulation the group disbands. This results in unclear objectives, confused and frustrated team members and an inefficient, unsuccessful crisis response.

What happened? Surely the boss was the best person to lead the pack?

Winston Churchill was a good leader during the war but failed to lead during peacetime. Similarly, crisis leaders require different skills to peacetime leaders, and in a crisis, there is big difference between a ‘boss’ and a leader.

Often (not always, but often) a boss dictates, makes decisions for the group and points the finger. A boss is focused on the big picture but not always on the best way to get there. They launch with an innate expectation that there will be a group of subordinates following their lead, seldom looking back to check who is still with them.

In a crisis situation, this dogmatic approach is fraught with poor decision-making.

On the other hand, good leaders listen and ask questions. They pick up on body language and other cues from their team. They recognise when someone is frustrated, when someone needs a break, when someone has something to say but isn’t saying it. After all, this could be a vital piece of information or insight that the rest of the group has overlooked.

Most importantly, a leader follows a process that encourages the unique insight and perspective of each team member and focuses on the most efficient, effective path to success – the definition of which is understood by all team members who are working together towards this shared goal.

The important thing is finding the right person for the job. And often the best person won’t be found at the top of the food chain.

They may be hidden in your HR department, or it may be the unlikely IT geek. They could be used to working collaboratively with different personalities in difficult situations.

It doesn’t matter where you find them or where they fine-tuned their skills. What matters is they are a good leader, even if they’re not the boss.
What matters even more is they receive the training to run a crisis response and have the delegated authority to do so.

By Kath Christie