How to Lead in a Crisis

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Gisli Olafsson knows how to lead in a crisis. He led the first international rescue team to arrive in Haiti after the earthquake in 2010.  He has led teams in other world disasters from the floods in Ghana to the Horn of Africa Famine to the Typhoons of Bopha. With over 20 years of experience in disaster management, Gisli is one of the world’s leading experts on the use of technology in a disaster response. He is the Emergency Response Director for NetHope, enabling humanitarian organizations to serve the developing world.

Who better to talk about the subject of leading in a crisis?

The Crisis LeaderLeading through Difficult Times

Gisli, your new book The Crisis Leader is all about leading through difficult times.  Your experiences of managing crises are very different than my own.  Would you share a few of the more challenging circumstances you’ve faced?

The most challenging circumstance that I encountered was leading the Icelandic Urban Search and Rescue team to Haiti following the devastating earthquake in January 2010.  We were the first international team to arrive in the country, and the scenes of our first day will forever be branded in our minds: tens of thousands of bodies lying on the streets being collected into dump-trucks and taken away.  Sadly, we would continue to experience scenes of death, despair, and chaos our entire mission there.

 

It is in times of crisis that good leaders emerge. -Rudy Giuliani

 

As a team leader during the next two weeks, it became all about me ensuring that the team could perform at their maximum level, even though they had just witnessed the most terrifying experience of their life.  Keeping morale high, watching out for signs of stress, and encouraging them to give their best in order to save lives was all I did, 20-22 hours per day.

These and other disasters I have responded to taught me lessons about leadership, lessons that I discovered were not just unique to the world of disaster response but were in fact applicable to any organization or company dealing with a crisis.

Leadership vs. Crisis Leadership

You have seen some tragic events.  I cannot imagine how you felt. What’s your definition of leadership?  Is crisis leadership different?  Does it require a different approach?

Haiti Earthquake 2010 Haiti Earthquake 2010

Leadership is about getting people to do the things you want them to do, without necessarily having the authority to tell them to do these things. Leadership is about sharing a vision of a future state and influencing others to help you reach that state. Leadership is about focusing on that future vision instead of the past, while leveraging the lessons of the past to ensure you do not make the same mistakes while trying to reach that future vision.

Crisis leadership takes all of this to a higher level. There is so much more at stake. In my world it may make the difference between life and death. For other crisis leaders, it may mean the difference between the company surviving or going bankrupt.

Rudy Giuliani phrased it well when he said, “It is in times of crisis that good leaders emerge.” It is at these times that you see who the true leaders are, which ones can take the pressure and which ones can really get people rallied around a common vision forward, instead of giving in to the despair that is all around.

 

Leadership is about focusing on the future vision instead of the past. -Gisli Olafsson

 

Is there one characteristic that is a must-have for a crisis leader?

How Leaders Leverage Opportunity through Entrepreneurship

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This is a guest post by Mohsin Memon, the founder and director of Memcorp Learning and Performance Solutions. Memcorp believes in entrepreneurship in its truest form.

How often have you heard the phrase ‘lead by example’?  Probably one too many times.  We’re all told that we ought to lead by example without any understanding of what leaders do, much less how they think.  First and foremost we must recognize that great leaders from all walks of life embrace entrepreneurship not only in action but entrepreneurship in its truest form. Which means they entrepreneu in all aspects of their lives.  Entrepreneu is a verb and it constitutes many elements, but we’ll focus on one key element of what it means to entrepreneu here: Leveraging Opportunity.

Great leaders are great opportunists.  They are patient and wistful about the right opportunity. This doesn’t mean they idly wait for the perfect time to make a move. It means that they make the best of their current scenario.  An effective leader does that in two ways.

Creating Opportunity

When we think of creating opportunity, we realize that we must make decisions that help us create the right opportunity.  Yet with decision making, we often think simply in the terms of a decision that leads to one good outcome and another that perhaps leads to one bad outcome. The key word to be understood here is ‘one.’   To create real opportunities, we must think of decisions that could be made that lead us to arrive at multiple positive outcomes.

Great leaders are in a constant hunt for opportunities where they can apply the law of dual reasoning, when their one action stems from two distinct and profitable reasons.  In such a scenario, through the outcome of their decision they will have positioned themselves in a way to have a choice of two positive options instead of one good and one bad outcome. This enables them to create opportunity with choices.

 

Great leaders are great opportunists. -Mohsin Memon

 

Leveraging Circumstance

More often than not we’re put in situations that we are not content with.  Life doesn’t always pan out as we plan it, which is why we must adopt the mentality of Leveraging Circumstance. The mentality of Leveraging Circumstance comes from the understanding of what the great author Napoleon Hill once said: “Every adversity, every heartache carries within itself a seed of equivalent or greater benefit.” When we truly understand what the author is trying to say, we can begin to leverage our circumstances. In simple terms, we’re speaking of that silver lining in things that don’t go our way.

10 Email Productivity Myths

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Like you, I receive my share of email.  I have multiple email accounts.  It is especially difficult to manage as I travel the globe, working across time zones.

Over the years, I have heard my share of advice about email.  I call them “email productivity myths” because they are widely shared in leadership and productivity classes.  The problem is that some are not true.  Others work for some but not all.

Here are a few:

1. Email is one of the biggest time wasters.

 

Why:  This is one I hear all the time.  It seems a given that everyone sees it as a nuisance, as a time waster, as taking too much time.

Why it’s a myth:  More often, email is saving time. It allows quick communication with people all over the world. What takes a few minutes to write and to read would have required scheduling a conference call, preparing, and having an unneeded long conversation.  How to use email properly is an important skill, but don’t fall into the false belief that all email is a waste of your day.

 

2. Never reply all because you are filling up everyone’s email box unnecessarily.

 

Why: Carelessly hitting reply all adds an email to everyone’s inbox.

Why to do it: There are times when replying all is important. You are sending a message where everyone needs to stay in the conversation.  The important reminder is to think about where it is going.

 

3. Don’t respond.

 

Why: Say you receive an email sent to a few people, and you have an opinion and decide not to respond.

Why you may need to respond:  Depending on the culture of your organization, silence may be read to equal agreement.  If you have a point of view, you may need to share it either via email or in-person.

 

4. Use the blind cc: feature to copy people.

 

Why:  You are using the blind carbon copy to let someone know you are handling a situation, but you don’t want the receiver to know.

Why you should rarely, if ever use it:  It feels slimy.  It’s like you are hearing a one-sided conversation, and don’t get to hear the response.  If you receive a blind cc, you have to keep track of what you are supposed to know, and what you aren’t. Worst of all, we have all seen someone who was blind carbon copied respond, embarrassing the sender.

The only thing you absolutely have to know, is the location of the library.” Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein

Everything Connects: An Interview with Faisal Hoque

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My friend Faisal Hoque is a serial entrepreneur, author, and thought leader.  His life is a modern story of success, failures, and resiliency – leaving Bangladesh at 17 for the United States where he has since founded businesses including SHADOKA and others.  You may know his writing from Fast CompanyHuffington Post, Forbes, or BusinessWeek.

I previously talked with him about The Power of Convergence.  His latest book, written with Drake Baer, Everything Connects: How to Transform and Lead in the Age of Creativity, Innovation and Sustainability. Like all of his writing, it is packed with ideas.

Everything Connects

Faisal, it’s so good to talk with you again.  Let’s start with your definition of “connectivity.”  What is it?  Why is it so important? If it is that important, how do we cultivate it?

 

There is no substitute for inspiration, curiosity, and passion. -Faisal Hoque

 

Being holistic and humanistic is key to a great life and doing great work.

faisal.hoque300dpi2013Connectivity is a sense of journey to the sense of purpose — it is an individual, lonely pursuit and a collective, companionable one at the same time.

Our individual, interpersonal, and organizational working lives all interconnect. By examining these connections, we learn new ways to create, innovate, adapt, and lead.

We need to address our own mental experiences, our social interactions, and the mindset we can take to orient ourselves to this holistic, long-term view.

We need to explore understanding that leads to long-term sustainability, the way to act in a manner that promotes mutual flourishing, and how, crucially, a leader can urge us along this process.

We need to arrange our lives and our organizations in a way that leads to long-term value creation: surveying the subtle and not-so-subtle arts of idea generation, decision-making, and creating continuous value.

The newest problems of the world find solutions in the oldest timeless practices like mindfulness, authenticity, and perseverance—because Everything Connects.

Understanding Unique Motivations

“Somewhere along the way, people become convinced that stasis is safer than movement. Consistency feels comfortable; volatility is frightening.”  As a leader, how do you motivate people out of the comfortable?

I think first, we have to appreciate the interior complexity of the people that we work with. Then, we need to make the links between a person’s individual motivations and what our organizations need. In other words, link the individual–personal goals like career trajectories–to the collective group goals like innovation, revenue growth, and impacting the world.

Leaders need to connect with the emotional intelligence of their people and curate their talent to change, adapt, move forward.  There is no substitute for inspiration, curiosity, and passion. -Faisal Hoque

To do this we need to understand what people need from their work in order to do their best work–and how leaders can help arrange that for them. This distinction is rooted in intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation. If people are intrinsically motivated, there is something inside of them that pushes them to their work; if they are extrinsically motivated, something outside of them brings them there.  They embrace the unknown, volatility.  Leaders need to connect with the emotional intelligence of their people and curate their talent to change, adapt, move forward.  There is no substitute for inspiration, curiosity, and passion.

The Benefits of Meditation

You place a lot of value on meditation, calling it the “batting cage for getting familiar with the fastballs and curveballs of our conscious and unconscious habits.”  Off the top of your head, what are the top three benefits of meditating?