How to take advantage of a crisis Premium

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As Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, likes to say, “never waste a good crisis.” In each black swan, he sees an opportunity to question his leadership and strategy. You too can take advantage of the latest crisis by asking yourself the right questions.

“In times of crisis, stay vigilant about the impact of your attitude on all employees. Your slightest actions are observed and (over) interpreted.”

The superhero myth is at an end: leaders are no longer seen as super-human, capable of solving every problem on their own. Instead, a “super” leader is a team moderator — a skill that requires constant questioning and inquiry. From this perspective, every crisis becomes an opportunity to reconsider practices that, without occasional earthquakes, tend to fossilize.

1. Is your strategy still up-to-date? Is your business in line with global developments? In the face of a crisis, a company evolves, and leaders change their points of view. What would you change if you were starting from scratch? What would be your key missions, your company culture, and your structure? Would any employees or managers be replaced? Why have the necessary changes not been made, yet?
2. What is inadequate about your leadership? Periods of crisis management often reveal weaknesses, and identifying them is the first step towards progress. Do you manage your time carefully enough? Do you encourage autonomy? Are you open to constructive criticism? To answer these questions, consider seeking feedback from others, but beware: the more senior your position, the less likely you are to receive honest feedback!
3. Are your teams in top condition? Did the crisis reveal particularly strong and reliable performance by employees? Or, conversely, did it reveal undesirable behaviors? Take the time to observe the field in action. Use the crisis to prepare for performance reviews by collecting the data needed for your analysis. Troubled times are indeed valuable for managers who want to evaluate their teams and identify organizational practices that impact performance.

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How to take advantage of a crisis

Business Digest no. 221, November 2011.

Based on What to Ask the Person in the Mirror, by Robert Steven Kaplan, Harvard Business Press, July 2011.