What Leaders Can Learn From Crisis

Have you ever noticed how quickly people unite in response to wholesale disaster? You see it in the wake of devastating storms. Or in the immediate aftermath of unthinkable events like 9-11. At such moments we show an amazing ability to set aside our differences and pull together.

What accounts for the uniting and energizing force of a shared crisis?

Some might attribute it to survival instincts. But survival instincts give rise to "every man for himself." Сrisis, on the other hand, unveils a remarkable tendency for people to forget self and forego self-interest.

Why does disaster or devastation evoke such noble human behavior?

Largely, I believe, because everyone immediately sees the urgency of overcoming the crisis. This realization then draws us readily into a noble cause (combating the impact of the crisis). And human nobility is never higher than when we unite around a grand and noble cause.

Great crises have three qualities that serve to unite us:

  • The crisis makes a compelling cause readily apparent.
  • The urgency of the cause is unmistakable.
  • The cause resonates with everyone, because the magnitude of the crisis leaves no one emotionally untouched.

As leaders we can't always rely on crisis to unite our people. Poorly managed, indeed, crisis within an organization can amplify disunity, not defuse it.

In building and maintaining unity, however, leaders can utilize the same principles that produce unity in the aftermath of disasters. The following principles are particularly relevant:

  • To unite people effectively, give them a noble cause to pursue together.
  • Articulate the cause clearly and often.
  • Make the cause readily apparent to the entire organization.
  • Convey the urgency of the cause regularly to everyone.
  • Make the cause emotionally important to your people. Find ways to build a connecting bond between their hearts and the cause itself. And remind them of that connection often.

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