Business Week’s lead article in the January 19th, 2009 edition, “Managing Through a Crisis,” emphasized that the keys to managing in crisis situations are to take advantage of the opportunities that turmoil provides. The author states that leaders should emphasize the characteristics of “fast reflexes, an aggressive attitude, and serious changes to the status quo.” The focus of the article was on the opportunities for the company during economic crises. But, I wondered what do employees need from their leaders during these times and what are the opportunities to grow as a leader that may result from a widespread economic crisis.
Psychological research has shown that, in general, people prefer stability over change. In a recent President’s Column (Monitor on Psychology, March 2009, 40:3, page
5) Dr. James Bray notes that considerable psychological research shows
that people have a difficult time dealing with uncertainty and a sense
of their lives being out of control. Most people are uncomfortable with
surprises. In my experience assessing and advising senior executives, I
have learned that employees almost always want direct and clear
information from their bosses; this is especially the case during times of crisis. They might not like what they hear, but at the very least they want to prepare for the future rather than thinking one thing, then
finding something else out later. Yet, I have been amazed how often the very senior executives that know their employees want direct communication will often “squeegee” or hide the facts.
Through evaluating thousands of executives, I have found obvious differences between the more and the less successful. One of the most interesting management style differences between the two is that more successful executives score higher on being “objective” in dealing with their subordinates. Less successful executives have a management communication style that vacillates between being confrontive and avoiding. I believe that they incorrectly have a viewpoint that being a strong leader means being a dominant or tough boss. Avoidance allows them to not have to deal with difficult issues. But, both ineffective styles probably result from the difficulty they have leading others and would be particularly problematic for employees during a difficult economic period. Since employees need for clear and consistent communication grows during times of uncertainty, this would be an opportune time for executives to work on displaying these qualities with their employees. (by Daniel J. DeWitt, PhD)