confidence. “I’m like the swan— calm on the outside, paddling like mad underneath,” one CEO shares. Show that you’re human, too. Cold efficiency will have short-term gains but long-term negatives, including the loss of valued employees. After the founder’s unexpected death, a company’s lead director became acting CEO to secure customer and employee confidence. Several months later, the dynamic, aggressive young president was promoted.
The compassion of good leaders is readily evident; they don’t wait for directors to tell them appropriate actions. Speed of response is important—delays to assess “potential legal issues can be callous,” one director said. “We’ll generally support a CEO’s decision…don’t wait to ask us.” Thus the board applauded the CEO who paid the full salaries of employees called to service in Iraq. Symbolic acts may also illustrate compassion, concern and help expedite recovery. Don’t forget the importance of honesty—with employees and the public.
A crisis puts a company in the spotlight
Customers, suppliers, employees’ families and others close to the company are greatly influenced by management behavior. It’s thoughtful to change the company voicemail and provide information so that worried family and friends will know more: “It’s Monday, there’s no power, but everyone’s ok. It’s Tuesday, the sun’s up
under stress and a very private executive may not seek needed input and help. In this instance, “a little knowledge” can provide a better understanding of behavior during difficult times.
and we hope to be operating by Wednesday.”
Ensure training for dicult situations at all levels
Set up call centers to answer questions, modify websites and otherwise employ technology to let people know they’re valued. And don’t forget to update employees in other locations. Law enforcement has learned to give regular, frequent updates to keep people advised and minimize stress. People remember big and small gestures. Indeed when I was exposed to anthrax after a CBS Marketwatch interview, the network executives’ actions to reassure me were so commendable I remain an avid CBS fan (even working praise into this article.)
Learn a few stress basics
In addition to disaster drills, add survival exercises to your off- sites, executive training and other development programs. Used for years to foster teamwork and as ice-breakers, these exercises have additional value given today’s numerous crises. Ensure that leadership programs include a segment related to behavior and crisis management. Since corporations have experience incorporating broader concepts like ethics, diversity and global awareness, this isn’t difficult. Whatever the vehicle, directors and management need to ascertain that employees are prepared for things that aren’t likely to happen, but do.
Stressed people often won’t admit they’re stressed. Don’t expect people to perform normally after a major event—most will be operating at a 70% level for weeks. People will handle a crisis better if they have a “role,” whether giving out water, calling people, or other activities. Some people will be more susceptible to significant stress. Thus thoughtful/reflective individuals, empathetic individuals, and individuals without strong support systems (family, religion, friends) will be most impacted by disasters. Even employees in distant sites can become distressed by watching television. One of the few truisms of psychology is that a person’s dominant trait becomes more pronounced with stress. Accordingly, a manager concerned about details will micro-manage
Leadership behavior is too important to be left to chance— not in today’s world. Hope isn’t a strategy for anyone, certainly not for those in charge.
Dr. Dee Soder is founder and managing partner of the CEO Perspective Group, an executive advisory and assessment rm for top executives, companies and boards.The pioneer of executive coaching, Soder has helped leaders better manage business interruption and traumatic events for decades. Since 1976, she has also worked extensively with federal, state and local (NYC & DC) law enforcement agencies. A Directors & Boards contributor (“Ready, Fire, Aim”and “EarlyWarning Signs”), she is a director of several nonprot boards. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Boardroom Brieng: Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery