Leadership competency to avoid when it snows: hysteria

Posted February 2, 2011 in Communication, Latest News & Insights

All the hype about today’s snowfall has got many people in Toronto reminiscing about the memorable winter of January 1999 when then-Mayor Mel Lastman called in the army.   The sight of an armoured tank rolling down the middle of Yonge Street isn’t something I’ll forget.  Ridiculed by the rest of Canada as over-reacting, headlines like the following made the front pages:

Toronto calls in army; rest of Canada calls it winter

This reaction was just a long line of decisions and actions that Mel Lastman took that cemented his reputation as a bit of a crack pot and certainly clouded any good work that he did do in the Mayoral seat.

As leaders we get judged on all the actions we take and, one dumb move can wipe out at least 3 to 5 smart moves you’ve made and take you much longer to recover from.  String a number of dumb moves together (as with Lastman) and you’ll find yourself spending a long, long time digging out of the reputation mud.

I was once told that if your first impression of someone was highly positive, they would have to screw up three times before you changed your opinion of them.  The reverse is also true.  If you screw up in a big way, then you’ll need to be spectacular at least three times before someone with change their opinion of you.  Emphasis on the word SPECTACULAR.

To avoid reputation wreckage, here are some tips on making decisions in times of crisis.  Keep your cool by…

  • surrounding yourself with a diverse group of advisors who understand the issues fully and are as “agenda-free” as possible… hysteria breeds in group think and with people who don’t understand the facts
  • listening to your intuition… don’t be bullied into making decisions that you don’t feel are right (after the dust settles, you’ll be the one who will be blamed or lauded for whatever you decided to do, so you might as well pick the route that you can live with)
  • taking a deep breath and pressing pause… sometimes when those around you are shrieking for a quick decision, it’s easy to get caught up in acting without thinking.  Slow down and get as many facts as you can, as the situation dictates.
  • stepping back and re-evaluating… is the crisis real or is it imagined?  Sometimes work can take on mythic proportions when the reality is, by slowing down circumstances may change and the crisis may have been averted.

And, whatever you do, don’t whine to the media about how you just want your life back.  Whining and hysteria are not part of any leaders job description.

Happy snow day!


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