Leadership in times of crisis

The 17th of October marked a new era for Lebanon. The revolution which aimed at combating the unprecedented level of corruption had a very high cost. The level of uncertainty and volatility being witnessed since then has left its repercussions on the economic and financial level in a way that Lebanon hasn’t experienced during the civil war, post the assassination of late prime minister Hariri or even after July war 2006. Businesses are catastrophically suffering and the whole economy is in crisis. Classical leadership models won’t serve well in such critical times. Being Agile is not an option. Yet not all business leaders have what is required to be agile and to adopt the trendiest leadership models. Lebanon over the past 3 months has become a unique case study which demonstrates how leadership should be exercised during times of crisis.

Around 2,500 years ago, Heraclitus, a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, said, “The only constant in life is change.” Back then, Heraclitus was not able to refresh his Twitter or Facebook account to see that what was trending a minute ago would disappear from his timeline in few seconds.  In that era, the world was not disrupted by this many uncertainties, ambiguities, or complexities. The world was not interconnected as much, and consumers were not spoiled to the extent of updating their needs, wants, demands, desires, tastes, and preferences every so often. Despite all this, Heraclitus had the gall to talk about change!

With these new factors shaping our world, change has gained more momentum than ever before, which requires a kind of leadership responsive or adaptive to this change. Being a manager does not suffice; being a leader is indispensable. It is worth mentioning that even the leadership style that used to be trendy years ago has become obsolete in our new world of business.

Leadership in Action: Complexity

  • According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, organizations are launching more major change initiatives than ever before: three to five per year, on average.
  • The Corporate Executive Board reports that globally, half of employees expect a major change in six months.
  • IBM’s Global Chief Executive Officer Study shows that 79% of CEOs say that the level of uncertainty and complexity will get even higher; less than half say they are prepared to manage it.
  • Forum Global survey of 700 leaders shows that 72% of them report high or extremely high increases in uncertainty within their companies.
  • Forum VOC research indicates that twice as many business leaders say that “the ability to lead change” is a top business challenge as compared with 2010.

Triggers for New Forms of Leadership

  • The skills needed for leadership have changed—more complex and adaptive thinking abilities are needed.
  • The majority of managers have developed by virtue of on-the-job experiences, training, and coaching/ mentoring; while these factors are all still important, leaders are no longer developing fast enough or in the right ways to match the new uncertain environment. A global mindset is required to lead.
  • Companies are facing a development challenge, which is the process of growing “bigger” minds and developing more agility in dealing with problems.
  • The environment has changed—it is more complex, volatile, and unpredictable. In a study conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership, the environment in which leaders must work is characterized by the acronym VUCA. The letters stand for:
  • Volatile: Change happens rapidly and on a large scale
  • Uncertain: The future cannot be predicted with any precision
  • Complex: Challenges are complicated by many factors and there are a few single causes or solutions
  • Ambiguous: There is little clarity on what events mean and what effect they may have

Challenges for Future Leaders

  • Information overload due to complexity and the amount of factors that have an impact on businesses
  • The interconnectedness of systems and business communities
  • The dissolution of traditional organizational boundaries
  • New technologies that disrupt old work practices
  • The different values and expectations of new generations entering the workplace
  • Increased globalization, leading to the need for cross cultural leadership

Skills Required for Future Leaders

  • Reflecting the changes in the environment, especially since the competencies that will be most valuable to future leaders appear to be changing
  • Adaptability/agility
  • Self-awareness
  • Being culturally savvy
  • Constant learning and development
  • Collaboration 
  • Network thinking

Power and Leadership

Power is the ability to get someone to do something he or she would not do otherwise. Having an impact on the behaviors of employees to direct their efforts toward achieving a common goal or a shared vision is what leaders usually aim at. The form of power utilized defines whether the company and employees are being led or managed. In a notable study of power conducted by social psychologists John French and Bertram Raven in 1959, power has been divided into five separate and distinct forms:

  1. Coercive: uses the threat of force to gain compliance
  2. Reward: uses the right of some to offer or deny tangible, social, emotional, or spiritual rewards for others for doing what is wanted or expected of them
  3. Legitimate: uses the authority one has based on his or her position
  4. Referent: is rooted in the belonging one might have to a certain group, while sharing its values and beliefs to a certain extent
  5.  Expert: uses on one’s knowledge, experience, and special skills or talents. Expertise can be demonstrated by reputation, credentials certifying expertise, and actions

With the advent of information technology and knowledge economy, a new form of power gained momentum. Information power comes as a result of possessing knowledge that others need or want. Information can lead to a certain influence, impact decision making, establish credibility, and being in control. Providing rational arguments, using information to persuade others, and using facts and manipulating information can create a power base. The particularity of this form of power is that it is not linked to a position in the organizational chart. Any employee who possesses information that is needed to achieve the organizational goals is powerful. This leads us to a new form of leadership, which is distributed leadership.

When a person suffices oneself with coercive, reward, and legitimate power, one exercises a kind of managerial ability to run the business. However, when power evolves into the expert or informational kind, leadership starts to become more apparent.

Peter Drucker says, “The only definition of a leader is someone who has followers.” Leadership can be perceived as a process of social influence that maximizes the efforts of others toward the achievement of organizational goals.

59 thoughts

  1. Albert Einstein once said, “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.” Change is inevitable and in times of a crisis, only true leaders and strong organizations can get through. Traditional leadership models cannot solve the problems of modern crises, responsive leadership is the only option and this is why some organizations suffer more than others. Change is expected and challenges are always there, this is why new skills are required for leadership. Leadership today is complex and for that reason, a global mindset is necessary along with adaptive thinking. Future leaders might suffer even more due to the never-ending technology development, complexity of businesses, etc… Thus, future leaders must be responsive, adaptable, and self-aware in order to succeed. Distributed leadership is the result of the ever-changing leadership dynamic which proves that traditional leadership would be obsolete in times of a crisis.

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  2. “Change is inevitable in life. You can either resist it and potentially get run over by it, or you can choose to cooperate, adapt to it, and learn how to benefit from it. When you embrace change, you will begin to see it as an opportunity for growth” Jack Canfield. Change is not always controllable, however the way we manage and react to change is what can be controlled. In times of crisis, classical leadership won’t serve its purpose and only strong leaders and organizations get through it by adopting effective leadership models which are critical to the organization’s success. Organizations should upgrade their processes and ensure that their employees develop and adapt to change in order to meet the various organizational needs, regardless if change was driven by technological developments, shifts in clients demands or competition. Leadership is considered to be complex, and those who are in charge are always in control thus, adaptability, self- awareness, global mindset and network thinking are all necessary skills to be pursued to guarantee success.

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  3. Lebanon has been in a disaster for years, but the revolution of October 17th brought it to the forefront. Economic crises, currency depreciation, unemployment, and a slew of other issues are the reason why i’m reading what’s written in this blog. It is critical that leaders’ perspectives on leadership change in order to prevent the world of business and the economic system from collapsing.
    This article discusses the critical position of leadership during times of crisis. A crisis should be seen as a true test of a leader’s effectiveness. Their qualifications are determined by their actions. In a crisis, a leader should demonstrate integrity, trust, and courage. In these times of crisis, leaders must be well-informed about the country’s current situation, attempt to adjust previous planning to suit the current situation, and ensure that the correct decisions are made about staff, insurances, planning, wages, and a variety of other responsibilities. The ability to persuade others to do something he or she would not otherwise do is known as power.
    A true leader will be humble enough to ask others how can he assist them or help them.

    I love how encouraging and motivational those words were chosen with strength and optimism for a better future in this post.

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  4. Change is constant, but that doesn’t mean it is easy. In Lebanon, new models of leadership are required as the traditional ones are not helping in solving the problems we’re facing during the economy crisis. The need to adapt changes is essential nowadays since the connections done around the world by the help of technology made changing needs, wants and desires faster. Thus, responsive leadership is needed so that they can adapt with the changes taking place recently. Leadership new models need to be introduced which can help stop or slow the economic system collapse.
    The leader must adapt quickly with the needs of the organization, help the employees and motivate them to achieve the goals stated regarding the changes that occurred. However, leaders are unable to develop fast enough which addresses the need for a global mindset to lead. Also, future leaders may find the fast technology development, globalization and the differences between the old generation and generation Z in workplace barriers standing in their way. That is why they should be adaptive, self-aware and collaborative. All in all a true leader should always be ready for a change especially in difficult circumstances.

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  5. The world is changing everyday: the population is changing, customer trends are changing, technology is changing and the economy is changing. Businesses who fail to embrace change can easily wind up as dinosaurs – out of touch and unable to compete under current trading conditions. so any company should think always stategicaly which means to make a strategic plan (flexible plan), always should change according to the outer situations and conditions. In Lebanon, for example companies which have flexible plans and dollars from business outside, can able to stand up in front of this disaster situation, whereas companies which are small and without B plan, sadly closed.

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  6. To improve is to change, to be perfect is to change often ‘Winston Churchill’. To make a change is hard to achieve especially if you are looking to improve a certain condition or working for a perfect change. Yet, change is fatal in life, it is something that cannot be managed or controlled. In the most critical times, classical leadership models are difficult to apply or to achieve change, this reflects the necessity of modern leadership models that are more expected to overcome all the competencies and work for a better future generation.
    Lebanon, in the recent two years has been highly in need of a new type of leaders with new thought and methods, leaders that are able to stand steadily in front the world biggest pandemics and local revolutions, leaders that use his/her authority, knowledge, experience and to establish credibility, and to use his/her information to persuade others for a better change, this leads to a new form of leadership which is distributive leadership.

    Thank you Doctor Hassan for sharing this interesting article, really beneficial and tackles reality

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  7. Over the course of history, many disasters have happened, that have shaped and/or broke many leaders around the world. Some of these disasters include but are not limited to, the 2010 Haiti earthquake which left over 220,000 dead and more than 60% of the country’s population in poverty. The 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, Fukushima Nuclear Disaster where over 20,000 people died and millions displaced from their homes due to nuclear radiation similar, the famous disaster of Chernobyl in Ukraine, the AIDS pandemic in 1981 claiming over 30 million lives which continues to claim many lives in many countries today, the H1N1 Swine Flu Pandemic which according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has claimed over 570,000 lives, Ebola and last but not least COVID-19 which humanity continues to endure. My point is, with all these disasters, epidemics/pandemics, through hope and influence, leaders from around the globe have shown us the essence of leadership, leading us through the dark tunnels into the light and making us believe that this too shall pass. Times like these are where leadership skill sets are tested, and where new leadership skills sets are born.

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  8. History has always taught valuable lessons, Countries and Economies have emerged and grown from catastrophic disasters, some have fallen, and others are still trying to overcome and survive. The ability to change and shift business goals and objectives by building a business associated with Leaders that have the ability to enhance a business and its employees through continuous professional development in a multi-culturally diverse environment will succeed. The previous article focused on Leadership trends that should be adapted in organizations and which are a key to the success of any organization. These trends do not exist in most businesses in Lebanon and therefore the disaster and change that struck Lebanon had a negative impact on them. Yet other companies broadened their horizon and adapted to the constant change and have even managed to expand their business.

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