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Leading in a Crisis: A Humane Approach

Leadership in a crisis

Just last week you were trying to lead your team forward. Now, we’re in an historic moment of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA).

How you lead yourself, your team, your company and your family through these coming weeks will define how all of your life’s stories will unfold.

I want to share what clients have found useful over these past few days.  Just to be clear, in my experience this is a messy, iterative process that takes time to perfect. But, just working through the process the first time is likely to add clarity and strength to your leadership.

I try to avoid military analogies in business, but sometimes they are really helpful.  To guide fighter pilots in making urgent decisions in very difficult moments, US Air Force Colonel John Boyd invented the OODA loop model.  

The model holds that we loop through four steps:

  • Observe
  • Orient
  • Decide
  • Act

I break these steps down as follows:

Observe - Get connected & curious

  • Reality - get as close as possible to where the work and transactions are happening.
  • People - ask a variety of people questions about their situations and opinions.
  • Data - open a circle of inputs that are as unbiased, direct and timely as possible.
  • Models - find the best thinking possible.  Adapt successful models to your situation, don't just borrow their conclusions.

Orient - Get analytical

  • Think clearly - read the smartest, clearest thinking possible. It will sharpen your own thinking skills even if it is not relevant to your area of expertise.
  • Verify data for completeness, accuracy and timeliness.  Refresh your understanding of statistics, especially confidence intervals.  
  • Test ideas for confirmation bias and logical fallacies.
  • Build networks of insight and care - find support for your thinking and spirits.
  • Map assets and liabilities, business and personal, including contractual and social obligations.
  • Prioritize values - these will support the evaluation of options.
  • Clarify circles of care
      • Arm’s reach
      • Personal
      • Community

Decide - Get rational

  • Choose to lead yourself and  others towards greater strength, clarity, wisdom and true wealth in this experience
  • Get tight - pull in all outflows of time, energy and money.
    • Look closely at all of your variable and fixed costs and list how you might cut them and what the trigger will be for cutting each.
    • Conserve cash in every possible way, it is your key to survival.  See renegotiate promises.
  • Stay home - for now, physically and metaphorically. Create your core value.
  • Renegotiate promises - notify the person of your intent to stop keeping the promise, then renegotiate a promise you can keep going forward.

Act - Get moving

  • Purposeful work every morning - know what it is the night before
  • Build structures that serve you and your crew
  • Always learning - we will all be changed by this experience, choose your path forward before it is chosen for you.
  • Refine practice - turn what you learned into a  for yourself and others

As we loop from action back to  observing the results of our actions we have completed the experiment of  one OODA loop. We observed reality, oriented to a hypothesis about it and decided on an experiment to act upon.  The results of that experiment feed into our next loop. With luck and some skill, we will loop closer and closer to creating a new reality that works for us and those in our circles of care.

In times of real crisis, we will loop through OODA with the following intentions for ourselves, our teams an organizations.  As leaders, we are like emergency room doctors seeking to ensure the patient survives, heals and eventually thrives again.  To that end, we must focus on each step in turn:

  • Stabilize - ensure vital processes of life and value creation continue.
  • Heal - the damage done in the crisis and in our first responses.
  • Invigorate - integrate and breath life into the new normal that emerges after the crisis and healing.

Skipping steps in this process will only add risk to your situation.  Really focus on observing and orienting around what will be required for survival, make decisions and act in as many loops as are required to ensure survival  before you move on to the healing process.  You will learn valuable things about your business, your self and your team by investing in this process.  As you go, integrate your new wisdom into your daily leadership practices.

I hope you find this helpful.  We are here to help anytime, please reach out for a quick advisory orientation discussion anytime.  Book a time on my calendar here.

In these critical days, we will hosting free Humane Leadership Open Forums frequently online, see the events calendar here.  In these structured roundtables we will address your questions or issues in a confidential, humane group effort to find what's true and to support to each other in our leadership journeys.

SSig
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Humane Leadership Ideas

Ideas lead to actions.

Our work is to join the global movement to transform both leadership thoughts and actions based on a refined and uplifted set of humane leadership values and practices.

We write, see the Humane Leadership book. (Available Spring 2020)

“A drop of ink may make a million think.”

— Lord Byron

To put thoughts into action, we develop thinking tools called Wisdom Jigs.

“If you want to teach people a new way of thinking, don't bother trying to teach them. Instead, give them a tool, the use of which will lead to new ways of thinking.”

— Buckminster Fuller

Learn more about how we think in our blog posts below.

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Leader, Consider This

Consider Melville Moby Dick

It’s been said that power corrupts, but it is possible that power simply holds a bright light and a clean mirror up to reveal what has always lurked in the darker recesses of our hearts and minds.  I am reminded of one of my favorite bits of literature:

The text itself is below, but the full novel is available online at Project Gutenburg.

Consider the subtleness of the sea; how its most dreaded creatures glide under water, unapparent for the most part, and treacherously hidden beneath the loveliest tints of azure.

Consider also the devilish brilliance and beauty of many of its most remorseless tribes, as the dainty embellished shape of many species of sharks.

Consider once more, the universal cannibalism of the sea; all whose creatures prey upon each other, carrying on eternal war since the world began.

Consider all this; and then turn to this green, gentle, and most docile earth; consider them both, the sea and the land; and do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself?

For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the half known life.

God keep thee! Push not off from that isle, thou canst never return!

-- Melville, Moby Dick, Chapter 58

 

This is an excerpt from the book, Humane Leadership: Tools to Engage, Empower and Improve Performance.

A pdf of the image is available for download here.

An image file is here