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Taking control in a crisis starts with looking within

You can regain a sense of control in crisis and even innovate, if you practice acceptance and self-awareness.

By Professor Sameh AbadirSameh Abadir and Marta Widz

The webinar “Crisis management: From disruption to continuity” led by Sameh Abadir, IMD Professor of Leadership and Negotiation, with additional input by IMD Research Fellow Marta Widz appeared live on Monday 20th April at 11am CEST.

It explores multiple positive ways to reframe the crisis, including the acceptance of certain realities.

Professor Abadir uses multiple anecdotes to suggest that firms can turn crisis into innovation and presents his best practices to do so. How do you start looking for future opportunities in your organization at this time? Professor Abadir says: mobilize resources quickly, possess strategic sensitivity (agree on trade-offs) and commit as a united front, for starters.

Crisis triggers certain behaviors in all of us, and awareness is the key to catch ourselves. Professor Abadir explains how we have a greater than usual need for honest feedback, either from coaches or friends, and how our emotions dominate, with our logic often remaining switched off. “If we have been trained to hide we hide, if we have been trained to run, we run.” People do what they know best under stress and knee-jerk reactions are common.

Be curious about peoples’ energy reserves and manage accordingly. Encourage people to bring bad news up as soon as possible. Under severe stress we cannot predict our or others’ behaviors. You likely will be surprised, be it positively or negatively. Indeed, “We cannot model this crisis; in fact it is modelling us […] and this is why it is so unique.”

We should have no illusions about the nature of crisis says Professor Abadir. Whilst there is a lot to gain from a crisis, there is also pain and the transformation from crisis to opportunity is more akin to the road to Damascus than it is the changing of a caterpillar into a butterfly. Practice a lot of sense-making, adapt as you go and really accommodate others in terms of their behavior under stress.

If you feel out of control that’s because we are in unchartered territory where speculation is rife. However, we can gain control of ourselves and indeed we must if we are going to avoid falling into one of our biases. These biases are different for each of us but, typically, we can all be overconfident and overoptimistic in such times.

In these times, being sensitive to weak signals is one of the most powerful behaviors and indeed it can be learned. “The ability to stay sensitive to weak signals could save our lives,” says Marta Widz.

“There are doers and there are canaries. The canaries see things below our screen; the weak signals,” explains Professor Abadir.

“Some people are born with weak signal sense. They step in and out of an elevator and remember what the other person was wearing and what airline was on their luggage tag. Others go into an elevator and see nothing!”

Fine-tuning your weak signals can prevent you falling into your biases as can your social capital — the wisdom of crowds. We have our private networks, our professional ones and our overlapping ones. However, our strategic networks are the only category of network that will change our lives in crisis. But we have to keep them active, dynamic and broad all year round – admittedly, a tiring process.

Professor Abdir also paints various pictures of possible post-crisis crises in our world, exploring the different directions they could come from on a geo-political level, and urging leaders not to be complacent in thinking the crisis ends when the current chaos calms.

Perhaps the biggest lesson of crises gone that we would do well to remember is that no institution or individual – from NASA to the Titanic – is too big to fail.

To view all webinars, please visit our Leading in Turbulent Times page here.

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