The Three-Headed Monster: Part 1
Are you experiencing obstacles in setting goals, plotting a new direction, getting to a better place, and making a difference? If you are like many leaders who are struggling to find a more strategic approach, you will benefit from reading this series of short articles. Strategy by its very nature is about creating more value for the organization and creating a strong competitive edge.
Over the past 30 years I have studied and taught principles of strategic leadership. During that time, I have discovered the three biggest challenges that prevent leaders from thinking and working strategically – The Three Headed Monster. If you don’t tame this beast, as we like to call it, you won’t be able to engage in strategic processes that will ensure your future success. In this article we will tackle the first head of this monster: “crisis management.”
The First Head
You will easily recognize the first head of the monster. Quite honestly, every leader in every organization is going to encounter emergencies, unexpected events and circumstances, and urgent problems. These situations could involve customers, suppliers, employees, or expenses; you name it. Unexpected organizational problems can wreak havoc on any business. It doesn’t matter how good you are as a leader—unwelcomed surprises await you.
The problem is that some managers get in so deep, and the frequency of these crises is so high that they get perpetually trapped in a vicious cycle. Eventually, these crises begin to feel normal and managers get used to dealing with the crisis du jour on a regular basis. Even more worrisome is the fact that some leaders learn to cope with and even relish in the crisis of the day.
They become proficient in this role and get a great deal of personal gratification, recognition, and encouragement when they go into battle and save the day. We are all glad that these crisis gladiators can do it and have nerves of steel to tackle perplexing, complex, and recurring dilemmas. But you can’t get to where you want to be, or win in the market place if you or other leaders in your organization are being consumed by grease fires.
The job of a leader is more than being a full-time firefighter. You have got to move from being stuck in the mindset of reactive crisis management and adopt a strategic leadership approach. You can make this change by attacking this problem on two levels.
First, on a personal level you have to reprogram your beliefs. This will take some self-coaching, but you will come to understand that over time, you are shooting yourself in the foot if you believe that handling emergencies is your primary role. You have to discover ways to find satisfaction in, or feed your ego with things other than being a “heroic leader.”
Second, on a team level you need to share the firefighting load. Spread out the burden fairly and you will find others who are good at crisis management; this approach will give team members the opportunity to develop those skills as well. Learn to accept the fact that others may not fight the fire the way you do, and that is okay. Let them practice and find their own solutions; they need the experience. The day may come when you will need all hands on deck with good firefighting skills.
Last but not least, you have to have a courageous conversation with your crew about the root cause of the crises that arise in the first place. Look for long-term solutions to the underlying problems. It may take some investment in fire prevention resources and technology to cut down on the number of fires, but think of the risk you are running with exposure to these crises. It is a cost/benefit exercise when you look at it this way.
Until you deal with the problem at a more fundamental level, you are doomed to mediocrity. You can never become unique, special, and valuable to your customers and stakeholders if you only deliver in a pinch. When you get the fires under control, you are in a better position to tackle the pressing issues that will make a difference in your long-term success.
In the next article, we will meet the second head of this monster, and twin of crisis management: “activity trap.” We will explore how to get off of the treadmill and put energy and resources into building a solid foundation for the long haul.