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Module 6 Introduction. The Crisis Environment Presents Unique Challenges for Leaders

Module 6 Introduction. The Crisis Environment Presents Unique Challenges for Leaders
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One of the most challenging aspects of high-stakes leadership is having to lead, to assess situations, to make decisions in an environment that seems custom-built to make a crisis leaders responsibilities impossibly difficult. In this module, we’ll look at the nature of the crisis environment and why it creates so many remarkable challenges for high stakes leaders. First, crisis situations will escalate at different rates. Occasionally, crises build slowly over time, and despite our awareness of them, they become massive complex predicaments. The Covid-19 pandemic and Hurricane Maria are examples of this type of crisis. Others, and these are much more common, erupt in an instant and immediately reach near peak intensity.
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The events of 9/11 2001, the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral, and the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil platform are examples of crises that escalate rapidly, requiring crisis leaders to leap into action. Regardless of their escalation rate, crises will place enormous demands on the time, energy, focus, physiological and psychological health of crisis leaders for extended periods of time. Demands, perhaps greater than ever experienced by these leaders. Second, in a crisis, there will always be a degree of uncertainty. Perhaps a great deal about the origin, the nature, and the potential consequences of the threat. This uncertainty will create an initial sense of shock, fear, and anxiety for everyone impacted by the crisis. And these concerns will grow as the crisis continues.
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As time passes, the weight of this growing sense of tension will increase, putting greater pressure on leaders to find solutions and restore some degree of normalcy. Third, the crisis environment will present a threat to one or many stakeholders value proposition. Which stakeholders? Threatened how? To what extent? Resolved by what? Questions that will feel as though they’re coming quickly and furiously, particularly in the very early stages of a crisis. They underscore the benefits of having a crisis typology of some sort to help crisis leaders respond more effectively to these very questions. And forth, because of the threats placed on these value propositions, the situation will call for, in the eyes of at least some stakeholders, urgent, sometimes continuous attention.
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This will require crisis leaders to not only scramble to resolve the immediate threat to the enterprise, but to do so with continuously increasing pressure from its stakeholders. Resolving the crisis and engaging stakeholders will put considerable demands on a crisis leader’s time, which is one of the most limited resources that a high-stakes leader has to deploy. So, as we begin our exploration of the crisis environment, we can immediately see how important it is to have a sense of what will be required of high-stakes leaders when they’re called into action. We can also see how important it is to be prepared to engage our stakeholders.
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Despite the enormous demands placed on leaders to resolve the material aspects of a crisis, there will be a relational aspect of the situation as well.
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In the book, The Politics of Crisis Management: Public Leadership under Pressure, the authors nicely summarized the unique challenges facing today’s high stakes leader. They say the very nature of the crisis environment creates a seemingly impossible task setting for high stakes leaders. It requires urgent decisions while essential information about causes and consequences remains unavailable. It requires effective communications to a variety of audiences with widely differing needs, views and frames of reference. And it requires that leaders explain vulnerabilities and existing institutional structures, values, and routines as well as vulnerabilities in the leaders themselves. Being a high-stakes leader will require you to face these realities, to embrace vulnerability, both of our systems and of ourselves.
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And to lead, for the most part, without a playbook. Because this is what the crisis environment demands of us. Welcome to our module on the nature of the crisis environment.
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High Stakes Leadership: Leading in Times of Crisis

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