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Brain circuits

Five questions to test your crisis leadership skills

Published 5 January 2023 in Brain circuits • 3 min read

It’s fair to say that the chaotic world we live in isn’t likely to calm down anytime soon, which means there is likely to be more unpredictability and new crises as we bring in the new year. This doesn’t have to be something you approach with trepidation, because our volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) environment can be navigated well by agile leaders who are comfortable forging through unknown territory. To see if you are prepared for the next crisis, ask yourself the following five questions.

Can you discern what is “noise” from what is critical information?

Noise is the unwanted variables that can complicate decisions. During a crisis it is important to be able to stay calm and recognize that some variables can come into play that can skew your judgement. There are also variables that, if overlooked, can lead to unintended consequences and sub-optimal decision making.

Are you aware of your own biases?

We all have them, but leaders who are effective in a crisis recognize this and try to listen to voices and perspectives different from their own. Your biases effect what is noticed – and, just as importantly, what is not getting noticed. Handling crisis situations requires the willingness to be inclusive.

Does your team feel empowered to speak up?

This is a skill executives should practice all the time, especially when not in a crisis, so when things get tough people feel comfortable expressing divergent viewpoints. Do you encourage people to challenge assumptions and demonstrate that you value such input? If you are not sure, there is no time like the present to start embedding this into your daily practices and team meetings.

Does your company culture embrace mistakes?

Many companies have embraced the rhetoric that they allow and even encourage mistakes, because experimentation and errors are a platform for innovation. However, if your company is talking the talk, are they also walking the walk? Think about compensation packages and how people are promoted. Do mistakes set them back? How visible is this? How are you ensuring people aren’t afraid to make errors? These are tough questions, but necessary ones if you want to ensure a culture that truly embraces mistakes. Remember, it is the ability to learn that enables people and organization to adapt with agility when times get tough.

Does your communications strategy properly include all stakeholders?

Transparency is always an asset, but it is particularly important when companies need to pivot to a new strategy in the face of crisis. Clear and consistent communication should go out to everyone, not just a select few. It is key to convey a sense of hope in addition to whatever news you have when managing volatile and unpredictable events.

Remember, as you move through this VUCA world, you don’t have to have all the answers – but you mustn’t stop asking yourself the questions.



Sameh Abadir

Professor of Leadership and Negotiation at IMD

Sameh Abadir is Professor of Leadership and Negotiation at IMD. He advises companies on negotiations and runs negotiation workshops in English, French and Arabic. He has recently directed custom programs for Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation, Jerónimo Martins, ArcelorMittal, and Merck, and he is Director of IMD’s Crisis Management online program. He was Co-Director of IMD’s signature program Orchestrating Winning Performance (OWP) and Co-Director of IMD’s Negotiating for Value Creation (NVC) open programs.


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