What Strong Crisis Leadership Looks Like during the Pandemic

Synopsis of an article from Kellogg Insight by Timothy Feddersen, published 2nd April 2020

The COVID19 pandemic is providing business leaders around the world with a crash course in crisis management. The immediate critical challenges of supporting customers, protecting employees and stabilising the companies revenue and security is a brand new experience for most leaders.

An excellent example of a CEO demonstrating leadership right now is Arne Sorenson of Marriott. Timothy Feddersen (professor of managerial economics and decision sciences at Kellogg School) teaches a course on Crisis Management and he uses Sorenson as a model of excellence in leadership refering to the contents of a recent video message made for employees.

“Sorenson starts by offering compassion for the employees who have COVID-19 or have family members who are sick and for those in quarantine. Then, Feddersen explains that Sorenson speaks “with an incredible level of transparency to explain to everybody in the Marriott Corporation that this is the worst disaster that’s ever happened to Marriott” and that it will inevitably lead to some very difficult business decisions. Next, Sorenson stresses that Marriott needs to take steps to remain a viable organization, that the crisis will end, that and Marriott needs to be prepared for when that time comes.”

This combination of empathy, transparency, and aspiration to recover are hallmarks of strong crisis leadership. Leaders have to aggregate and assimilate critical, accurate information from across their organisation.

“This requires emergent leadership,” Feddersen explains, meaning that even those without formal authority must feel comfortable speaking up. And, because the risk of making mistakes is so high in a crisis, “this takes a tremendous amount of courage, so we need to train our teams to be emergent leaders.”

The importance of crisis teams having a clear chain of command to make rapid decisions in case any of the usual management hierarchy of the organisation becomes unavailable or incapacitated.

Feddersen stressed one point above all else: empathy.

You can read the full article here: https://insight.kellogg.northwestern.edu/article/crisis-management-covid19
watch the full webinar here.

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