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Perspective Matters and Informs Our Priorities!

Perspective Matters and Informs Our Priorities!
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In a crisis perspective matters, when we considered the impact of the Deepwater Horizon crisis, I raised some questions about the broad reach of the situation. How would executives at BP, Transocean, and Hyundai Heavy Engineering be viewing this crisis? As you would expect, the incident became their primary focus for not days, but for weeks. If we assume that a crisis is an unstable or crucial time or a state of affairs in which a decisive change is impending, especially a change with the distinct possibility of a highly undesirable outcome, then we can see why a crisis situation requires leaderships, attention. A decisive changes impending. What do we know about how people respond to any type of change?
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We know that they don’t like it. They resist it, because with change comes questions and concerns about their ability to thrive in their new post change world. We’ve all seen or even experienced these feelings, and they’re not pleasant. In a crisis, not only is changed very likely, but portents suggests that this will not be a change for the better, at least not in the short term. This idea is highlighted by the second half of our definition, which emphasizes the distinct possibility of a highly undesirable outcome. As a result of a crisis, people are going to be anxious, even fearful, and they won’t likely benefit from the outcome.
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As leaders, we must keep in mind that members of our teams will be looking for tangible evidence of leadership. Why? Because they’re anxious, they’re scared. They want the source of this anxiety to go away, and they want to see that someone or some team is taking care of it. What we know from research, and for that matter, what we all know from experience, is that the members of our teams are not the only stake holders who be looking to leadership for information, for guidance, and for some level of assurance that their interests will be protected. Later in this course, we’ll explore the concerns these stakeholders bring to a crisis.
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When we do, you’ll see that these concerns can be significant and that they’ll require attention, often immediate and sometimes nearly continuous attention for the duration of a crisis situation. But we’ll get to that a bit later. For now, let’s acknowledge another critical aspect of crisis leadership, and that is the challenge leaders will face because of the limited time and resources at their disposal during a crisis. Given limited time and resources, how will leaders be able to address the needs of all stakeholders impacted by the crisis? To effectively navigate any crisis, they will have to eventually engage all of them.
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Unfortunately, with limited time, especially in the early stages of a crisis, leaders will have to determine which stakeholders to address and how to address them, knowing that some will receive immediate attention and others will simply become lower priorities. How can crisis leaders navigate this challenge? That is where some pre-planning can really be helpful. Planning for certain categories of crisis can actually help high-stakes leaders identify which stakeholder groups are most likely to be impacted by certain scenarios. But research tells us that very few organizations actually do this planning. So this is what I’m going to ask you to do in the next activity.
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To look at a crisis situation, conduct a quick assessment about the nature of the crisis, and to determine which stakeholder groups should be considered priorities. In the scenarios that follow, most of which will be familiar to you, I’d like you to be thinking about a few key questions for each. First, does the event fit our definition of a crisis, in an unstable or crucial time or state of affairs in which a decisive changes impending, especially a change with the distinct possibility of a highly undesirable outcome? If so, then the event should be worthy of executive time and energy. What other stakeholder group or groups will be impacted to a significant degree by this event? That is the second question.
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What stakeholder groups should the leadership team identify as what we’ll call priority stakeholders? Once again, while it’s accurate to claim that every stakeholder group will be impacted to some degree by any organizational crisis, the reality is that certain crises will impact some stakeholder groups more significantly than others. Your job as a high-stakes leader is to determine which of these groups require the greatest share of your time. So in the scenarios presented in the reading assignment that follows, ask yourself, first, is this really a crisis? Then ask, which stakeholder groups are being impacted most significantly and deserve the greatest amount of attention?
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A third question, which you won’t be asked to answer now, but one that is clearly the appropriate next question is, what do these priority stakeholders want and need to hear? High-stakes leaders who can effectively answer and act on question 3 are the rock stars in the crisis leadership space. My colleague Tom Peters, a well-known leadership expert who was part of the team at McKinsey to develop their famous 7S framework, has always referred to leadership as a liberal art, a soft skill about a leader’s ability to engage with people. This in my view is the essence of crisis leadership.
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It is a liberal art, a soft skill, the ability to understand how groups and individuals are thinking and feeling, and to address these thoughts and emotions in ways that build and rebuild trust. In the scenarios that follow, how do you think these leaders engage with their most important stakeholders? There are undoubtedly some lessons to be learned from the experiences of others. One of which is that not only does the perspective of our stake holders matter during a crisis, but also that these perspectives can and should inform our priorities. Good luck with the exercises.
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High Stakes Leadership: Leading in Times of Crisis

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