Where Does Command and Control Come Into Play in a Crisis?

Perhaps you were taught as a leader and coach that in times of crisis, the style required is command and control. Meaning if the building is on fire, you are not going to stop and ask you what do you think we should do or how we are feeling about it all – you are going to jump into action and start communicating loudly and clearly what people must do right now. No room for debate.

This approach still makes sense for the initial crisis. Like in this pandemic, a number of immediate decisions had to be made by senior leadership to help the business pivot to lockdown conditions.

And yet, as I watch business leaders respond through this crisis, past the initial pivot, I see the effective ones are intentionally making space early in the process for a different style – where more input is being invited, more of a two-way conversation fostered.

They are being honest about what they do know and what they are doing about that. And transparent about what they don’t know or haven’t solved for yet while creating opportunity for employees to contribute ideas to the solution/conversation. Opportunity to hear the truth from all the unique corners of the business.

And because of that approach, their people are reporting that the fear and entropy on their teams is low and the innovation and connection levels high. Exactly what leaders want as the key foundation for a business to continue to survive and then thrive.

For that to be your approach you will have to choose to believe that the better solutions will be co-created collaboratively, that the conversation and space to look at the issue together will allow new information to emerge to help the solution be truly sustainable. That the process is just as important as the outcome, especially if you need people’s buy in– and when don’t you? And perhaps choose to believe that taking time to connect before content in any meeting is key to tilling the soil so that the issues and decisions then discussed can flourish.

It’s interesting isn’t it that one of the gifts of this time is that everyone has less doubt now about how little control we collectively have. So, perhaps to no longer be vulnerable and real about what is going on as a leader is now a form of privilege in a way. An old mode of staying separate and slightly above your people. Whereas effective leadership now is getting highlighted as showing up and being present to whatever is happening and being real about it. So you will also need to choose to believe this approach ultimately serves you and your team. Let’s face it, we all have old conditioning learned in early roles that benefits from being examined based on what we know now.

Once your beliefs are aligned, you will want some new structures to help and which you choose depends on whether it’s a team meeting or a one on one – and how urgent the situation. There are great tools that can help a meeting/ input on an issue/decision become a more collaborative process like the ideas generously shared at http://www.liberatingstructures.com or the free tool Fun Retro for collaborating remotely.

In a nutshell though, curiosity is your guiding light as leader to shift from being prescriptive to ever more collaborative.

And lets just admit, it’s very easy to be seduced into giving advice or jumping to the fix. Reliving a success to a captive audience and sharing what worked well and how that relates to what you think they should do know – could be just what is needed. Especially when “just tell me what to do” might be the subtle or overt approach of the coach or team. But as leader, it’s our work to consciously choose which approach to use in each situation for maximum positive impact.

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