Leadership during Crises is what Distinguishes Great Leaders from Manager Leaders
The Present Crisis of Leadership
Everywhere we look around; we see multiple crises and converging catastrophes that are upending our assumptions about how the world ought to be run and questioning our beliefs about our collective future.
Indeed, right from exponentially accelerating technology threatening to make humans obsolete and at the same time, hurtling us into an uncertain future, to the breakdown of the social contract between the State and its Citizens, and most importantly, the need to protect nature and our fabric of existence that is now facing extinction, there are crises and crises.
In this context, it is but natural for the citizenry to expect its leaders, whether business, political, or social to rise to the occasion and simply do something about them so that we can rest assured that our nations, our businesses, and societies are in safe hands.
However, as even a cursory glance at the news signifies, our leaders, whether elected or otherwise, seem to be unable to do anything despite trying or worse, are simply filling in time before the next election or the next board meeting comes up.
Thus, there is a crisis of leadership and this is where the need for Great Leaders to ramp up and deliver is becoming paramount.
Leaders, Managers, and Crisis Leaders
Often, there is some confusion about what managers do and what leaders do.
While the former and the latter perform similarly, the essential difference between them is the vision, the charisma, and the ability to persuade and convince their followers to walk on water if need be are the key distinguishing factors.
Indeed, while Great Leaders were managers at some point, not all managers make to leadership positions.
Apart from that, there are also leaders who are simply Manager Leaders who bring nothing to the table apart from their managerial skills and administrative abilities.
Indeed, among this category of leaders is the outgoing Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Theresa May, who is widely criticised for handling Brexit in a very managerial manner rather than what befits a leader.
On the other hand, another former Prime Minister, this time of India, Manmohan Singh, was widely parodied and made fun of by sections of the establishment is now respected for having navigated the country through the turbulent times caused by the Great Recession of 2008.
Thus, it is our point that Manager Leaders can also do well especially when their mettle is tested during crises.
Leaders are Known for how well they Perform under Pressure
Indeed, this is what separates Great Leaders from run of the mill ones wherein the ability to handle crises and the knack of pulling everyone in the same direction is concerned.
For instance, the former President of the United States, Barack Obama, was known both for his leadership as well as managerial skills wherein he calmed the frayed economic tempers and soothed the nation through several crises.
The fact that he did this with an intransigent opposition and lukewarm support from his own party makes his tenure that much more important and his leadership that much more legacy filled.
On the other hand, there are those leaders who are exceptional at personality and charisma and at the same time, fail to exercise leadership during crises.
For instance, Justin Trudeau, the present Prime Minister of Canada, is known for his personality and was widely expected to be a successful leader and the fact that at this point, there are more critics than admirers for his leadership means that he is relegated to yet another Manager Leader.
Of course, we do not intend to be too critical of those mentioned except to underlie our argument that it is crises that test the mettle of leaders and differentiate them from others.
Transformational Turnaround Leadership
In this context, it is worth noting that Lee Iacocca, the former General Motors and Chrysler CEO (Chief Executive Officer) who passed away yesterday was something of a legend in the automotive world for both his visionary and administrative skills.
The fact that he rescued an ailing Chrysler and made it competitive again shows how much he succeeded in turning around the company. Moreover, he set high standards for crisis leadership wherein he battled the bureaucracy and the bean counters as he called them to ensure that he and his company succeeded in their objectives.
Similarly, the late Steve Jobs was another leader who transformed Apple into what it is now and this is more remarkable when one considers how he had to quit the company and was recalled later to turnaround.
Apart from these two, another example which comes to mind is the now disgraced CEO of Nissan - Renault (the French Japanese automotive firm) who had both personality as well as managerial skills and was instrumental in making the merged entity into something of a global powerhouse that its rivals fear.
Lastly, as we can see from the discussion so far, managers can become leaders, and leaders need managerial skills.
However, the key to great leadership is how well they handle crises and how well they manage and lead at the same time.
Indeed, for aspiring managers, there are lessons here as to how they can become leaders in their own right when they can rally their followers around them and steady and calm the nerves during crises.
To conclude, while it is not easy to be a great leader at all times, it is possible for them to exhibit exemplary crisis management that can earn them everlasting fame and name.
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