General Colin Powell once said that “Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand.”
This certainly applies to leading during times of crisis. We all face moments of crisis that must be dealt with in the course of our careers. Some crises are public-facing, such as an automotive company that faces a massive recall or a publicly-held company that endures a multi-billion dollar loss. Other crises are contained primarily within the walls of the organization but can nonetheless be distressing for employees and managers alike.
Since there are different types of crises that can occur in organizations today, let’s explore various scenarios and approaches that CIOs can take to guide their teams through turbulent times.
During an organizational crisis, one of the things that employees look for from senior management is a sense of order and protection at a time when employees are feeling particularly vulnerable and uncertain. Whether it’s a crisis that’s occurring directly within the IT department or one that’s centered elsewhere in the company, the CIO can help put IT staff at ease by speaking openly with them about the steps that are being taken to address the situation.
Remember, leadership is different than management. If your managerial style tends to be a bit hard-edged, you may want to consider taking a softer approach in communicating with employees during a crisis. This includes opening the floor for discussion and allowing employees to share their concerns and to pose questions.
In some instances, a member of the senior management may be embroiled in controversy, such as accusations of fraud or other wrongdoings. This can be a slippery slope for IT leaders. On the one hand, the CIO should be as transparent and forthcoming as possible with his or her team to let them know how senior management is addressing the situation.
Still, as a member of the executive leadership team, the CIO has a responsibility to protect the interests of the company. An open dialogue with the IT team is an effective way to gain their trust and confidence – so long as the CIO isn’t divulging sensitive information that could be disseminated by a member of the IT staff. Be sure to reiterate the sensitive nature of the crisis and ask members of the IT team to treat it appropriately.
At some point, a CIO may have to address an IT/business crisis that hits close to home, such as a malfunctioning ERP system or if/when the organization has been victimized by a cyber attack. CIOs who are able to clearly communicate the current state of the crisis, the steps that are being taken to address the situation, and the plan of action going forward can inspire IT team members to step up and deliver their best work – especially when IT staff is able to recognize the magnitude of the situation and their role in helping to resolve it.
Of course, it’s especially helpful to have a disaster recovery-type response plan in place should such situations occur. This can help the CIO to galvanize the troops quickly to address the situation and to reassure team members that an action plan is in place to tackle the problem.
What are some additional leadership best practices that CIOs can apply during a crisis?