We have in the last part discussed the leadership opportunity created by a Crisis. If someone fears for their survival, their livelihood, or any other facet of their future, they are more apt to seek out a leader that can guide them through the struggle to a stable future, if not a better future.
Remembering that the key to leadership lies more in the perception of the followers than the capability of the leader, it is instructive to understand that a manufactured crisis can be just as effective a rallying point as a real one. For example, countless people over the years have combined a daunting apocalyptic vision with the insistence that they alone can navigate the worthy (i.e., their followers) through it into a lucrative quasi-religion or a cult that ultimately met with a horrific end.
Don’t forget that being a good leader does not necessarily correlate to being a good human being.
More than one person has observed, “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” Though this quote has been attributed to former White House Chief of Staff and current Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, I found no definitive confirmation. But the quote betrays the inner thoughts of many would-be leaders (“this is the chance for me to grab power”). In the throes of a true crisis, the most marginal acts of leadership tend to be magnified solely because of the desperation felt by the followers.
Business organizations are as ripe for crisis leadership as any regime under fire. “Sales are in the tank and we must take drastic action to stop the bleeding and turn this thing around.” Business leaders can lie just as effectively as the most ruthless dictator, so not every proclaimed crisis can be considered to be real.
The problem with leveraging crises as springboards to leadership is, in rather quick order, the crisis passes (either through normalizing the situation or through the collapse of the organization). The crisis is pretty much a one-off. If you are in leadership when a second crisis occurs, you will have been perceived as leading the people into the crisis. You’ll have to stake out a new position on the progression to entrench leadership.
Next: the second C, Compelling Vision