The Next Crisis In Inevitable. The Urgent Call For The Prepared Leader

The Covid pandemic was a crisis like no other and the world was caught unprepared. Governments large and small were taken by surprise and developed processes and policies as new information emerged. They flew past the seat of my pants. If big governments behave this way, how can we expect organizations to have the know-how to do better?

Decades of research on crisis management by Dr. Erika James, Dean of the University of Pennsylvania at Wharton, and Dr. Lynn Perry Wooten, President of Simmons University, underscores that a crisis is atypical, rare, severe, yet inevitable. A crisis and its response have a pattern. Knowing and understanding the sequence of events can help leaders navigate anything from an oil spill to a pandemic.

According to James and Wooten, there are five phases of crisis management:

  1. early warning and signal detection;
  2. preparation and prevention;
  3. Damage control – limit financial, reputational or existential threats to your shareholders and your company;
  4. Recovery – Regain time, resources and lost revenue and find out how to move forward.
  5. learning and reflecting.

In their new book, The Prepared Leader, James and Wooten successfully argue that it’s never too early or too late to prepare for a crisis. When you first face a crisis, five steps need to be taken quickly while you’re under incredible pressure. These five phases have nine corresponding support skills. During the Covid pandemic there was an added layer of complexity as these phases had to be carried out while being physically isolated from your own team.

  1. Gather important information;
  2. Understand the organizational structure, needs, weaknesses and strengths;
  3. Identify urgent issues;
  4. Make important and sometimes controversial decisions;
  5. Build consensus and resources to execute them.

A crisis team is key to getting out of a challenging situation. James and Wooten outline four steps to building a crisis team:

  1. Build a diverse crisis team that consistently looks for new perspectives and knows how to solve new problems under pressure.
  2. Establish a shared sense of purpose and accountability.
  3. Create a culture where collaboration, ideation, and information sharing are expected.
  4. Empower your team to react and adapt quickly and autonomously.

The idea of ​​turning to experts in times of crisis is discussed again and again. Not the person with the most authority should be the central person, but the person with the greatest expertise, often referred to as situational leadership. Egos need to be controlled at the door, and the ability to be humble enough to let others take the lead as the situation demands is the mark of a successful and prepared leader.

James and Wooten assumed their respective roles as Dean and President on July 1, 2020 at the height of the Covid pandemic. Their years of research and work in crisis management has enabled them to effectively guide their teams through the world’s most turbulent and unprecedented times. The Prepared Leader is a master class and blueprint to be adequately prepared for the next crisis. Based on extensive research from almost every industry, from the NBA to the English healthcare system, the tools and ideas are realistic in that they are practical and actionable.

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