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Brain circuits

Have you fallen into one of these leadership traps?

IbyIMD+ Published 13 July 2022 in Brain circuits • 3 min read

One of the challenges often faced by leaders is how to handle a crisis. We have conducted extensive research and interviews with leaders across all sectors of the economy to identify what works and what doesn’t in a crisis. Building on prior research on the topic, we have identified six traps that leaders can fall into in turbulent times. Often these traps are hidden, so leaders don’t realize when they are getting stuck.

For today’s exercise, ask yourself these six questions to see if you recognize any of these circumstances on your team.

Has your team become complacent? You may notice a loss of creativity or have a sense that people are starting to ‘go through the motions’ at work without really engaging. If so, they may be suffering from entrenchment syndrome. Just as soldiers in the trenches lose their will or ability to fight, teams in other scenarios can also lose focus.

Are you or others around you starting to consider things you normally wouldn’t? Crisis can cause people to experience evaporating ethics. In the struggle to survive redundancy or the collapse of the business, desperate leaders can be tempted to take extreme actions, compromising ethics and purpose as base survival instincts kick in. Do you recognize this at your company?

Have you become either too caring or too daring? In times of crisis, our dominant characteristic prevails. It is important to modulate ourselves through agility.

Are you eliminating people you shouldn’t? In times of crisis, the weakest can pay a heavy price. As leaders, we need to bring people with us rather than throwing them to the wolves, particularly those who are most vulnerable.

Are the right people leading your teams? Beware of toxic leaders, especially when times are tough. In a crisis, we need leaders with a high level of trust, even if they might not be the stars of high-performance delivery. 

Are you losing connection to the people you work with? When we shift to survival mode, there’s a danger that we lose informal relationship building. Consider how you can avoid or minimize the lack of informal human contact. 

Further reading: 

 Toolkit for strategic leading through a crisis by Sameh Abadir and Niccolò Pisani 


Sameh Abadir

Adjunct Professor of Leadership and Negotiation at IMD

Sameh Abadir is Adjunct 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.

Niccolo Pisani - IMD Professor

Niccolò Pisani

IMD Professor of Strategy and International Business

Niccolò Pisani is Professor of Strategy and International Business at IMD. His award-winning research has appeared in the world’s leading academic journals and extensively covered in the media. His work has been featured in both Harvard Business Review and MIT Sloan Management Review. He has also written several popular case studies that are distributed on a global scale. He also co-directs the International Growth Strategies program.


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