Sunday, October 23, 2011

Leadership in Times of Crisis - The London Riots

The London Riots began on Saturday 6th August 2011 with a handful of people who were angry at the death of a civilian, shot by a police bullet. Over the course of the next week, the riots grew to encompass the majority of London, as well as some of the other major cities in the UK, and the after-effects have left the whole of the country reeling with shock.

The Prime Minister and the Mayor of London cancelled their holidays to return to the city, and whilst they were never going to don riot gear and tackle the problem in that way, it was vital that their leadership was visibly present. However, it was disappointing that their leadership constituted trying to tiptoe around and make everyone happy, rather than boldly marching in to solve the situation. Sometimes leaders need diplomacy - sometimes they need action. And the defining point of a good leader is that they know which approach to use in every situation they face.

No matter what the leadership challenge being faced, there are three things that remain a constant way to begin the process of getting the best out of a difficult situation.

The first thing is to lead your people rather than herding them. A son once tried to take on his mother's usual role of getting their chickens into the hen house each night to keep them safe from foxes. Try as he might, he could not round them all up into the hen house, so the next evening he watched to see how his mother achieved the task. Instead of trying to round the chickens up, she walked among them, dropping handfuls of grain. Once the chickens started following the trail of grain, the mother was easily able to lead them inside the hen house, and they willingly followed.

The same principle applies to human beings - if we have trust in our leaders, and a reason to follow them, then it makes for a much easier process.

The second thing is to ensure that as a leader, you set realistic expectations. These expectations need to be high enough to challenge your people and push them to the best of their ability, but it is also very important that they are set realistically enough to be achievable, or there is a risk of damage to morale, and an air of "can't be bothered to try any more" can set in.

The third thing is to remember that as a leader, you cannot be all things to all people. You cannot be the friend, the colleague, the sympathetic ear, the supporter, the inspiration, the motivation and the firm kick-up-the-behind all at the same time. In pleasing some people you are going to end up offending others, and leadership is about having the courage to believe in your choice of actions, and to see them through to the very end.

Finally, those in leadership should always remember this - people will not remember what you say to them. People will not even remember what you do. But people will always remember how you made them feel. Therefore, a good starting point for leadership is to regularly ask yourself "How do I want my leaders to make *me* feel?"

Lucy Cadman Developing People Limited Helping individuals, teams and organisations maximise their performance.

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