How Do We Lead During Constant Crisis?

Reframe for Crisis

After the challenge and tragedy of 2020, most of us welcomed 2021 with open arms. We could get vaccines in those arms, and we could finally put those arms around other people again. We were also armed with a little bit of hope and optimism. 

But 2021 hasn’t really played out the way we hoped. 

Here in British Columbia, the pandemic found some new compatriots in the crisis department. From the summer’s deadly heat dome and raging forest fires that ravaged the province, to the fall flooding which devastated our lands and infrastructure, it’s been one disaster after another. If anybody wants a primer on what climate change looks like, sadly a trip to BC will serve that purpose. 

The impact on work from this constant stream of crises has been immense. No matter your function, it’s taken a toll. At Fluency, we’re especially in tune with the impact it’s had on communications/marketing leaders and teams. These are people who, on most days, are equipped and built to respond to a crisis, and have the agility and creativity to adapt and change. But even these leaders and teams are breaking under the strain of the barrage of one crisis after another.  

A Constant State Crisis 

In the seminal book “The New Leadership Literacies” published in 2017, futurist Bob Johansen called it. He said the three major disruptors that would engulf and disrupt our planet in the next decade and lead to unprecedented uncertainty were 1) global pandemics, 2) climate uncertainty, and 3) cyberterrorism.  

Wow. 

And, as COVID-19 has made clear to us all, today Johansen reminds us that we are simply not prepared for the extreme dilemmas we will face in the years ahead. It’s not if we are going to face additional crises and disruptions, it’s simply a matter of when. And we should no longer expect any meaningful respite or room to breathe between them. They will stack upon each other like firewood until we can’t see the top of the pile. 

Reframing Our Operating System 

Enough is enough.  

We can’t wait for more signs, or hope for more time to prolong the denial. We need to embrace the reality that we are now in a perpetual state of crisis.  

Rather than hope for a given crisis to pass, hope we get a break before the next one, or kid ourselves there won’t be another one, we have the opportunity to reframe our operating system for the future.  

Here’s the good news – we can create new systems, new models, and new mindsets to embrace, rather than resist, the future that is bearing down on us. 

This could be the biggest imperative facing leaders right now. 

A New Resiliency 

Despite the opposition we face, we can choose to be optimistic. We can create a new form of resiliency that has resolve and stamina, is realistic, and is self-generating. Leaders (and their teams) need this more than ever, and those that choose it now will be better armed for 2022 and beyond. 

Here are three ways to build that new resiliency: 

Recalibrate Capacity  

We all know how the story goes. A crisis hits, we drop everything and rush to it, we extinguish the fire, and then we get back to our regular jobs. But what do we do when there are fires burning all the time? How do we retain the energy and time to be able to respond to the never-ending crises? Our belief is that leaders and teams need to fundamentally rethink their capacity, and start the hard process of recalibrating that capacity to plan for the constant state of crisis.  

  1. Rather than pushing a team to be fully scoped and at capacity all the time, retain some time and capacity so you have the ability to flex into the crisis situations.  
  2. Plan projects in a way in which you don’t have to restart or rebuild if the project is left unattended for a while during a peak of crisis.  
  3. Create a team rhythm that allows you put the needed resources into a crisis and not feel like the entire department or mandate has been left unattended and neglected.  

Make Time For Renewal  

In the midst of constant crisis, we need to make the space for renewal…closing one challenging period and creating conditions for us to face the next chapter. We all need the breath and the clear delineation between events and times. For leaders, that can look like creating a full-day session with your team that allows for discussion and decompression, social interaction, and a space to think (optimistically) about the future. For teams, it means constantly renewing trust and emotional connection within the team so you know you can withstand future crises. On a more personal level, leaders need to be fully available to their teams during these renewal periods to allow them the safe space to talk, reflect, and revitalize their own energy. 

Full Flexibility  

Again, Bob Johansen provides us with the path forward in leadership. His recent work around Full Spectrum Thinking is the antidote to the scourge of constant crisis. The superpowers of adaptabilityclarity, and maintaining vision are now essential for leaders. Those leaders stuck waiting for a crisis to pass or holding on to past models that were (they thought) optimized for ever-changing conditions will fail. Those leaders who embrace the uncertain future have the opportunity to build a sustainable way of working that can flex, form and function, even under constant duress.  

 

How well is your team equipped today for constant crises of tomorrow? 

What would a moment of renewal do for you and your team? 

What are you holding onto tightly today that you need to be more flexible about in the future?