Reflections on Bill George’s Book, 7 Lessons for Leading in Crisis

George Washington (Lansdowne Portrait), Gilbert Stuart, 1796

Pressure makes diamonds. – General George S. Patton Jr.

Source: 7 Lessons for Leading in Crisis, Bill George (2009)

The author breaks down leadership in times of crisis into seven lessons:
Lesson 1: Face Reality, Starting with Yourself
Lesson 2: Don’t Be Atlas; Get the World Off Your Shoulders
Lesson 3: Dig Deep for the Root Causes
Lesson 4: Get Ready for the Long Haul
Lesson 5: Never Waste a Good Crisis
Lesson 6: You’re in the Spotlight: Follow True North
Lesson 7: Go on Offense: Focus on Winning Now

I can see clearly how all seven lessons are important; although, they can be placed into two groups: one focused on self and relationships, and the other focused on systems.  One can also see how these lessons can be applied to our current Black Swan crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lesson 1: Face Reality, Starting With Yourself; Lesson 2: Don’t Be Atlas; Get The World Off Your Shoulders; Lesson 6: You’re In The Spotlight: Follow True North

Admit that we are having a crisis and take personal responsibility; this may be the most difficult thing to do.  The True North people have your back.  Dismiss your “yes men”.  Reach out to the experts for help.  Because of your position, you have a massive network many of us don’t.  We have so many experts not only in our country but worldwide.  Surround yourself with knowledge!  Reach out to other countries (or states or cities, etc.) and see what they are thinking and/or doing. Straighten up and fly right.  Don’t give in to pressure.  People are watching.  This is the opportunity you have been waiting for.  Model your leadership skills.

Lesson 3: Dig Deep For The Root Causes; Lesson 4: Get Ready For The Long Haul; Lesson 5: Never Waste A Good Crisis; Lesson 7: Go On Offense: Focus On Winning Now

Recognize and accept the cracks in our system that need permanent repair.  Now more than ever you and your people can see those cracks clearly.  Also, take a humble look at your leadership skills, and fix them now.  Then address the systems that need to be fixed, e.g. you, the healthcare and childcare systems, the need for digital infrastructure and net neutrality, etc.  No quick fixes, no band-aids over open wounds, no robbing Peter to pay Paul.  Strengthen your resolve and your nation.  Assume it is going to get worse before it gets better.  What you see may only be the very tip of an iceberg.  Buckle up and commit.  This is your chance to change the world for the better.  Service before self.  Don’t take too long of a breath when the storm has passed.  Continue to reshape the nation and fix its systems while others rest.

Authentic Leadership

I would add the five tenets of authentic leadership to these two groups.  Authentic leadership skills are equally important in a crisis and act as foils to each other.  An authentic leader needs to remember their purpose, stay true to their values, foster their relationships, commit to self-discipline, and have heart (for all things shall pass).  Also, laying the groundwork for your people to trust in you and each other needs to have happened long before the crisis; adding in more on psychological safety and maintain an open organizational culture where people may fail is paramount.  I would have also liked to see more on change management and how to handle opposition and buy-in.

The Social Age and Transparency

The book supports the arguments of Friedman and his The World is Flat book.  The social age has made the actions of leaders much more transparent and as news spreads fast this leads to higher scrutiny and accountability.  This can be scary for some; however, one may use this to their advantage to model good leadership behaviors.

I love George’s proposal of posting to a personal leadership blog that goes out to all employees and welcomes feedback.  And by taking the time to read all feedback respond the leader is establish and open organizational culture that is adaptable to change.

Greater Than the Sum of Our Parts

As an anthropologist and organizational leader, I fell in love with George’s statement, “What species survives, the biggest? The strongest? The fastest? No, it’s the most adaptive.”  In the end all we have is each other, and our greatest asset as a species is the ability to admit mistakes, learn, fix, and move one – together.

Let me know your thoughts; please comment below!

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