In a Crisis, Leadership Comes to the Fore

When we are confused, upset, anxious, and looking for something that is missing, we look for a leader. In a crisis, we want a result that improves the current condition – the accomplishment of commonly recognized appropriate goals. Owners of a private business often look at one another. When we look for a leader, what is it we are looking for?

Some would say that it would be the talent of the person who is the leader – the competence of that person in the area of concern. Others talk of the passion and ability to communicate of the leader – who will raise the spirits of all. Sometimes it is the leader who models actions to be taken and inspires others to emulate. Often, it is the humility of a leader that allows the strength of the group to be enabled.

But the essence of an effective leader is the ability to cause the group to act to accomplish commonly recognized appropriate goals.

A person may possess great intellectual skills and exercise logic in decision-making, but fail to communicate the wisdom of the decision to recognize and define certain goals. A passionate and charismatic person may appeal to the emotions of the group to act, but only advocates goals which are not commonly recognized to be appropriate. A person may be the most competent person in the group, but not be able to discern the appropriate direction for the group to take. A humble person may recognize the capabilities of those in the group, but not provide guidance for the application of those skills. All of these traits are admirable and desired in a leader, but they alone are not enough for effective leadership.

The effective leader, regardless of personal talents, is able to educate the group about the definition of an appropriate goal, involve the group in determining what to do, take the vision to the physical action of group accomplishment, evaluate the group effort, and revisit the group decision about the goal to move on in a considered direction.

Effective leaders perform in a variety of ways, but the result must be group action: alignment on acceptance of the goal, act together on the goal, evaluate together on the progress of the actions, and redefine the goal in light of those efforts.

A chief executive officer who is an effective leader can consistently accomplish goals and move the business in a predetermined and desirable way. Boards of directors in the public sector are forced by shareholder reaction to terminate chief executive officers who fail to realize forecasted goals. Boards in private companies (if they exist as viable entities) are often controlled by a business owner as chief executive officer. This fact explains why it is common to find effective chief executive officers in public companies, and not unusual to find ineffective chief executive officers in private companies.

Yet, the value of an effective chief executive officer in a private company is very high. With appropriate strategic and operational goals to accomplish, the actions of a chief executive officer can determine whether a business reaches its goals. Chief executive officers who accomplish appropriate goals create wealth for the owners of the businesses they lead. In a crisis, the important search for that leader should be conducted by the owners whose focus should be not on selecting an owner as chief executive officer but on finding an effective leader.