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Effective Leadership Traits for Crisis Management

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18.12.2019
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Leadership and Crisis Management

Chapter One: Introduction

Leadership is a crucial aspect of organizational management. Most successful organizations consider leadership an engine of their business. As a result, most organizations prefer to hire chief executives who possess the requisite knowledge, skills, and experience to lead the business to new heights. In the current dynamic and unpredictable business environment, most companies hunt for the best brains in the industry to run their organizations, irrespective of the price paid. However, employing an expensive chief executive does not guarantee that the manager will be able to lead the organization out of possible crisis situations successfully.

The recent resignation of Volkswagen’s CEO, Martin Winterkorn, over the emissions scandal confirms that not every highly-paid manager can lead a company out of a crisis (Boston, 2015). Therefore, for an organization to overcome a crisis, a certain level of leadership combined with the ability to steer the company out of trouble successfully is needed. According to Schwartz and McCarthy (2007), most organizations face minor problems every other day, but only a few can overcome them. It is true despite the fact that they can be large and otherwise successful organizations within healthy leadership environments. This phenomenon brings up a question of why some companies sail through their crises well while others do not, though they are in the same category in terms of the size, market performance, leadership, and management.

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It is assumed that most successful organizations would have the best leadership structure Nevertheless, getting to the top of its field is not all that one has to strive for in order to be a leading company. Staying at the helm is also quite a challenge, and crisis can be considered one of the greatest threats to an organization’s dominant position (Cuddy, Kohut, & Neffinger, 2013). In order to be a valuable and competent leader within an organization, one must act effectively in times of trouble.

Organizational leadership primarily focuses on offering some guidance that people within an organization require as they work toward achieving set goals and objectives of their organization. In addition, unlike management, which is about coordinating the company’s economic resources, leadership calls for the interaction between employees in an organization and requires getting these employees on board so that they can accomplish the set goals and objectives (Neilson, Martin & Powers, 2008). Consequently, effective leadership is the only way to approach organizational issues in times of crisis.

Prorokowski (2014) defines a crisis as a broad range of events that could be not only natural disasters but also man-made problems: either intentional or accidental. To be classified as a crisis, an event must have a detrimental effect on the organization. More particularly, a situation would be considered a crisis if it threatens the very existence of the entity, and if the organization’s survival depends, in one way or another, on its ability to survive and overcome the situation.

The notions of leadership and crisis are considerably intertwined in the sense that a manager must be able to lead an organization competently through times of distress. It implies that effective crisis management skills are a fundamental requirement for an organizational leader. Whether the company is as large as British Petroleum (BP) or small start-up business with a handful of employees, crisis management is about being able to take charge and show the rest of the team the way out. People look up to their leaders in times of trouble and seek guidance, reassurance, and inspiration, among other things. Without proper leadership, it is impossible for an organization to get out of a crisis.

Background of the Study

A recent article posted on the Management Study Guide website defined organizational management as a combination of “human psychology and expert tactics” (Demiroz and Kapucu, 2012). To be an effective leader, management skills are not enough. Demiroz and Kapucu (2012) state that leaders must be able to respond promptly to arising problems and efficiently cope with the threats, fears, and challenges that come with an organizational crisis. The leadership and crisis go hand-in-hand most of the time. Although, it can be noted that handling a crisis is not an easy task, especially when people that need to be led are on the verge of panicking and losing their faith. In most cases, members of the company or entity are devastated in the face of big distress or crash, leaving them in a trance-like state. Organizations may go numb with inactivity in the presence of a crisis, and it is up to the leadership team to get everyone’s focus back on a bigger picture and keep things moving in the right direction (Gatling, 2014).

There have been numerous crises involving some very large corporations, not all of which were correctly handled. One example is the 2010 Oil spill crisis in the Gulf region; it was a crisis that had significantly damaged the reputation of BP. The two disasters of 2014 that involved Malaysian Airlines are other examples of a crisis that struck a large company. In each of these crises, the effectiveness, with which these situations were handled, is debatable with regards to the philosophical, moral and political stances of those assessing the crises (Owen, Scott, Adams, & Rarsons, 2015). Clearly, there is a distinction between effective leadership and effective crisis management. Both companies are relatively successful in their respective industries and can be appreciated for their effective business leadership and organizational management in the international environment. However, their leadership proficiency in crisis management was called into question. With such experiences in mind, it becomes an urgent need for scholars to find an explanation of how an organization with such effective business leaders was not competent in handling crisis management and leadership. It has become significant to establish particular traits that make an outstanding leader in turbulent times. In managing an organization that is prone to a crisis, which simply means any company regardless of the size or industry, a leader must be prepared to handle significant distress at any time. A leader must know the aspects of the leadership style that will help with taking control of the panic in the company. Moreover, given that there are countless leadership styles, the need for thorough research is evident. It is required to offer comprehensive advice on how leaders should prepare to be effective during times of crisis, regardless of their individual styles.

Significance of the Study

In order to manage a crisis effectively, leaders should do more than simply apply the management models they have learned in class (Harwati, 2013). In some crises, even the most motivated team members lose hope and panic, or they completely lose focus and are unable to work productively. It is the leader’s responsibility to remind everyone of a bigger picture and challenge the personal interest and inspiration of every employee to work toward organizational goals. In order to manage emergency situations with ease, leaders have to understand their leadership styles and the specific framework of their companies during a crisis. While international organizations seem to be failing when facing distress, most small organizations assume that such crises are characteristic only of large organizations. Most small businesses fail early because of considerable problems that could have been averted or even converted into a selling point for the brand. Without understanding how to manage these crises effectively, leaders of these organizations are likely to sit back and let it negatively impact the company’s health until the organization in question can no longer be saved (Guest, 2015). To avoid this scenario, it is crucial that a study is conducted in order to establish specific leadership characteristics that can help in a critical situation in any given organization, be it large or small. This strategy will ensure that leaders understand their particular leadership styles and the traits that they have to develop to lead their people out of a crisis successfully.

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Study Objectives

For this study to be a blueprint for leaders within organizational contexts, this work will be looking at two important aspects that are significantly intertwined. A specific goal or research question is “what traits must a leader exhibit to deal with an organizational crisis effectively?” To answer this question in the best way, the research will consider a number of things. First, there is a need to define and formulate relevant leadership traits within the organizational context. Then, the research will look at organizational crises from the perspective of people working in an organization. Here, crisis management will be investigated as a leadership practice with a particular focus on the leader’s operational background. The organizational environment during the crisis must be explored and considered when looking at whether the discovered leadership traits will be effective or not. Last, there will be a need to find a common ground for leadership qualities and crisis management. Having understood those leadership traits that are applicable and relevant, as well as define the concept of crisis management, what leadership qualities would work for a crisis management initiative? This question will be answered in this paper. The specific research objectives are as follows:

i. What leadership traits are relevant and efficient within the organizational contexts?

ii. What happens inside an organization during the turbulent times?

iii. What leadership attributes, habits, and skills have to be applied during the crisis in order to address what is happening inside an organization to make the whole process more efficient?

General Direction of the Study

This paper aims at understanding the leadership and crisis management in order to establish the correlation between leadership traits and effective crisis management. In the past few years, scholars in the leadership research field have been actively paying attention to leadership qualities and styles in relation to the current organization, its complex structures, and changing needs, as well as expectations of people that need to be led. The ensuing depth of the knowledge on leadership also provided to an understanding that, besides leadership traits and skills or styles, leadership contexts also significantly affect the effectiveness and success of a given individual. It has created a need to understand the leadership within particular organizational contexts that are of critical importance to the existence of an organization. Therefore, the paper starts out by looking at the leadership and crisis management as separate and yet interconnected aspects of organizational management. In Chapter 1, the paper focuses on establishing the working definitions and the background of the study that set the leadership contexts and terms that will be used throughout the paper. It is followed by an explanation of the significance of the study and its aims and objectives. Chapter 2 presents a literature review and what scholars say on the subject of leadership, as well as crisis management, based on the recent scholarly sources from 2006 to 2015. Chapter 3 explains how the study was conducted by describing in detail the activities, methodology, analytical tools, and findings. All the related methods will be explained to allow other researchers to replicate the study in other organizational contexts. Chapter 4 presents the research findings; Chapter 5 provides recommendations and conclusions.

Chapter Three: Methodology

Exploratory studies focus on defining a problem in order to find a suitable approach for subsequent studies that will be aimed at coming up with effective solutions to the identified problem. In this study, the main concern is the identification of the leadership traits that are effective within organizations. Establishing the leadership traits needed for effective organizational management alone may not answer the research question, but it will identify the traits that are relevant to organizational leadership. The established organizational traits will then form the basis of the explanatory stage of the study. On the other hand, descriptive studies aim at providing accurate answers to the phenomenon under observation. In this case, it is the organizational leadership in crises. The descriptive study will help unravel the issues that happen within an organization during the turbulent times.

As stated above, in the research, explanatory studies generally aim at establishing the cause and effect in order to deepen one’s understanding of a given problem. In this case, the remaining issue is establishing that a manager must stir an organization out of trouble successfully. Therefore, it goes without saying that there are certain leadership traits that make a manager successful in dealing with an organizational crisis (Owen, Scott, Adams & Rarsons, 2015). An explanatory study will be used at this stage for establishing the exact leadership traits that a leader must have and why these leadership traits enhance the effectiveness of a manager in the face of an organizational crisis. To understand these trends better, the study will rely mostly on secondary sources for the data that will be used. It must also be stated that numerous studies have already been conducted on the subject of organizational leadership and crisis. This paper will rely on the findings of these studies.

Research design

This study will be designed around the grounded theory (GT). Basically, the grounded theory is a research method that guides a researcher’s way of thinking and approach to the subject at hand. In the grounded theory, the study begins with a question, and it is the same question that defines and guides the steps of the research design until the required answers are found. Therefore, GT will be particularly useful in the first part of this study, the aim of which is to establish the types of traits that organizational leaders must-have in the turbulent times. However, rather than relying on interviews, this part of the study will employ content analysis as a primary data collection method. Currently, there are numerous credible studies on leadership traits and organizational management. Therefore, rather than conducting primary research for this part, the paper will use the already published studies in order to find the applicable traits that make an organizational leader.

The second part of the study is slightly inclined to the organizational crisis. The study will be looking into the organizational environment during a crisis. The question to be answered here is ‘What happens within an organization during a crisis?’ According to Northouse (2010), understanding what goes on during a crisis is important when trying to determine the conditions, under which the said leader is operating. This part of the study is more descriptive in nature, and as such it will rely more on the qualitative methodology for the data collection. The best choice here would also be a content analysis focusing on the sources that document the organizational situation during a crisis. This part of the study focuses on establishing how employees felt and how they thought about the situations within their respective organizations when they were in crisis.

As for the explanatory part, the researcher intends to apply a case study analysis for comparative purposes. The studies on leadership generally require consideration of the context, in which the answers are not just about what was done but also when, where, and why they were given. Ordinarily, it would require an observational approach within the controlled context. The leadership, however, is a psychological concept as much as it is social and also methodical (Jacques, 2012). Thus, it may be very difficult to obtain valid and replicable results under controlled circumstances. A better alternative here would thus be simply to observe the leadership while it takes place within its natural environment. In addition, it can be noted that this research is predominantly based on secondary data sources. Similarly, there is a possibility to continue using secondary sources of data. Having defined the traits possessed by an effective organizational leader, it will be paramount for the researcher to identify an organizational crisis based on the offered definitions. The researcher here has to make sure that the organizational crises, which will be under focus in this part of the study, will meet the definitional criteria set out in Chapter 1.

The relevance of the Research Design

A number of reasons make the mixed approach specifically relevant for this study. They are as follows:

1. A mixed-method study allows for a combination of different research approaches that help the study make a more thorough examination of the situation under investigation. In this case, the researcher will be incorporating descriptive, explanatory, and exploratory concepts in order to generate a greater understanding of organizational leadership during a crisis.

2. This study aims at establishing the traits that are required by a leader in order to deal with an organizational crisis effectively. To get to this point, there is a need to define relevant leadership traits, as well as the organizational situation during a crisis. Moreover, in order to make the findings relevant to the audience, the study will have to explain why the stated traits make the leader effective in the face of a crisis. With all the steps required in this research, it can be noted that the mixed-method approach remains the only practical and, thus, a viable option for the researcher.

3. Most leadership studies only identify the problems and define parameters for future research. It is true probably because leadership studies require some level of specificity when it comes to contexts and definitions or constructs. In order to find solutions, it becomes critical for the researcher to look at different dimensions and examine all the applicable variables in the situation. To complete this task, the researcher has to explore a number of different research approaches and theories as it can only be done when using a mixed-methods approach.

Limitations of the Study

This study is going to focus on the use of the secondary sources of data not only for the applied definitions but also for the exploratory part that is aimed at establishing the relevant leadership traits, which will then be used to answer the research question. The above explanation means that the study is not really going to consider the primary sources of information for its most basic and yet most definitive component. Thus, it can be expected that this study will be limited to the traits that have already been studied and established to be of some relevance to the organizational leadership within various contexts, under which leadership studies have been conducted.

Data Collection and Analysis

For this study, the secondary sources required will be found in online academic databases. They include Science Direct, Research gate, Psycnet, Academy of Management Review Journals, Wiley Online Library, EBSCO, Elsiever, Project MUSE, Tandofonline, Oxford Journals, Google Books, Google Scholar, and JSTOR, among others. The concept of the content analysis herein will be specifically focused on finding the leadership traits that are relevant to organizations. In order to achieve this aim, the researcher will need to collect a lot of relevant resources that are focused on finding and defining leadership traits that are relevant and effective within organizations. The aim is to pick out the traits that are associated with the effectiveness of organizational leadership. Once the traits have been picked out, the researcher will consider looking into a few organizations that have been in crisis at some point in the recent past. These organizations will be among the keywords used to find sources for the second content analysis that will be aimed at establishing organizational circumstances in times of crisis. In addition, once they have been established, the researcher will have to focus on the case study analysis featuring at least two of the organizations featured in the second content analysis. The case study will be based on the secondary sources since they provide a great insight into the given problem.

Implementation Problems

For this study, the implementation was expected to be rather smooth. The only implementation problem was encountered during the interpretation. The research employed the services of an independent individual for data abstraction since there was a high risk of researcher bias. In fact, there were instances when the outcomes provided by the researcher did not match those given by the independent contractor. It took many retraced steps to find where the researcher had gone wrong before the findings could be reconciled and, thus, represented in the findings chapter.

Chapter 4: Research Findings

Presentation of the Data

The first part of this study was a content analysis aimed at establishing the traits that are associated with the effectiveness in the context of organizational leadership. As such, the selected sources were scanned for the relevant content with a particular interest in coding for existence. The aim was to establish the relevant traits of leadership that are generally associated with effectiveness within organizational contexts. As such, the major inclusion criterion was the organizational leadership. All the texts included in the search had to be about organizational leadership or organizational behavior. Thus, the findings included a rather long list of leadership traits as shown in the table below. Each of the traits was then defined for contextual meanings in order to capture their exact implications on leadership.

Table 1

Leadership Traits Associated with Effective Organizational Leadership and Their Meanings

TraitContextual meaning
BearingThe way, in which a leader conducts himself both in front of the subordinates and when alone. It determines the level of respect and how inspirational the leader can become.
EmpathyThe ability to bond with and understand other people, creating a good rapport and thus building trust and inspiration (Achua & Lussier, 2013).
FlexibilityUsing relevant approaches when handling a given situation. The effective leadership needs to identify the right approach to any situation rather than always going by the book
HumilityPaying more attention to the needs and opinions of subordinates. Generally, it makes a leader more persuasive and, thus, effective within organizational settings. Humble leaders are also more likely to think through their decisions beforehand and let the rest of the team carry on with their work as required.
ConfidenceTrusting in one’s abilities as a leader enables one to make decisions and commit to them. It is the only way a leader can give guidance within the organization.
CourageHere, courage implies taking responsibility even when the situation is not as smooth (Achua & Lussier, 2013). Effective organizational leaders should be able to give direction to the organization. Sometimes, it involves admitting mistakes and apologizing even in the face of severe criticism.
IntegrityThe consistency and transparency in one’s actions imply that they are more likely to act accordingly at all times. It means that as a leadership trait, integrity makes one incorruptible and, thus, easier to trust and follow.
DecisivenessLeaders must be able to act, even when there is a chance that the action may be a mistake. The ability to take a risk determines whether an organization being led will grow, or it will remain stunted due to the leader’s fear of making mistakes.
JusticeThe fairness and consistency ensure that a leader can be looked up to in the case of a conflict. The organizational leadership requires an ability to promote great interpersonal relationships; to do it, the leader must be able to resolve conflicts amicably and with fairness
EnduranceSometimes, organizations require a leader to work overtime in order to get things running smoothly. It requires the mental, as well as physical, strength to remain fully functional for as long as the organization needs its leader. Here, endurance means the ability to put in long hours both physically and mentally as needed.
TactIn order to communicate effectively even when the feedback is negative, a leader needs to be able to talk to subordinates without hurting their feelings or causing friction. It requires employing a strategy and careful planning. Tact always implies using the best approach that will help avoid conflict and friction in communicating with others.
InitiativeIt implies recognizing when something needs to be done and doing it rather than waiting to be told to do it. If leaders cannot take an initiative, an organization is likely to act when it is too late. With the initiative and foresight, however, the limitations of hierarchical corporate cultures are largely minimized.
CoolnessFor a leader within an organization, the pressure is often inevitable. It means that one must be able to stay calm and continue to act rationally even when being in a tough situation. Leaders within organizations have a responsibility to guide an organization out of a tough spot as if they panic, the whole organization loses.
MaturityA mature person knows his/her strengths and weaknesses and is able to relate well with others, understanding their situations and even offering sound advice when needed. For an organizational leader, all these skills help in maintaining good relationships within an organization. They also enable leaders to ask for help when they need it rather than soldiering on and making avoidable mistakes.
ImprovementOrganizational leaders operate within a dynamic context that requires learning from mistakes, whether own or others’ ones. Without some space for improvement, the leader is likely to keep making the same mistakes over and over again
WillBeing willed implies being determined. Organizational leaders need to be able to motivate others, but in order to do so, they should be motivated, as well. While they may derive motivation from other sources, the will to do what they have to do is the strongest kind of motivation that a leader can have.
AssertivenessBeing assertive means being able to state what one wants without being overly aggressive. This trait makes it easy for leaders to give directions without seeming like they are ordering their subordinates. Assertive leaders often have willing followers.
CandorBeing open implies being able to state one’s opinion and feelings within a given situation. For an organizational leader, the quality of candor allows for genuine communication that is able to inspire trust while also allowing for a conflict resolution at the very early stages of a disagreement.
Sense of humorHaving a sense of humor implies being able to make light of things that would otherwise seem too serious. When a leader has a sense of humor, hi/she is more likable to deliver any kind of bad news easily and clearly without causing additional panic. It means that in general, a sense of humor improves the communication and motivational skills of a leader while also improving their level of charisma.
CompetenceBesides leadership skills, leaders within an organization have to be competent. It implies that they must be able to carry out their responsibilities within the organization both effectively and efficiently. In this case, competence may be either earned through practice or learned in formal settings.
CommitmentLeadership is all about improving an organization, and to do it, one must be committed to the respective organization and its people. Thus, commitment here is the dedication towards a given relationship, the promise to follow through and always give one’s best regardless of the circumstances. Without commitment, it is really difficult to be intrinsically motivated.
CreativityIt implies the ability to take on a new problem with new possible solutions, to guide the organization towards sustainable relevance in the industry with new ideas as needed. Creative leaders are more capable of dealing with challenges and changes within an organization and industry, in general.
Self-disciplineIt can be defined as training and controlling oneself with respect to needs, feelings, and relationships at hand. Self-discipline is a trait enables a leader to relate well with others and set the right example for subordinates. Organizational leaders are particularly celebrated by their subordinates, thus, the lead to be genuinely clean in both private and public conduct.
LoyaltyDevoting oneself to a particular organization implies being able to give one’s best as a leader within that given organization. Therefore, loyalty is considered one of the most important qualities. A leader who is loyal is able to inspire others within an organization considering that they have invested in the business. Thus, they are likely to do their best to improve the overall performance. Loyal leaders breed trust amongst their followers.
HonestyThe ability to tell the truth means that a leader will always be willing to face reality and allow their subordinates to do the same. Leaders within organizations may have to lie in some situations in order to keep the peace, but if they are known to lie frequently, they will not be able to do so. Without the honesty trait, there is no leadership at all.
InspiringBesides understanding other people and relating well with them, leaders need to show the way and be followed. To do it, they have to be inspiring enough to motivate their subordinates. Thus, an inspiring leader is one who makes other people do the right thing by engaging them and showing them how important it is or how it will benefit them, whether directly or indirectly.
IntelligenceThe right amount of intelligence allows a leader to see solutions where subordinates cannot. However, when the difference in intelligence between a leader and subordinates is too high, the two may never get to understand each other, thus leading to frustration. In leadership, thus, intelligence is the ability to comprehend situations and generate relevant solutions.
AmbitionIt is an inner drive to do more, to get more, or to be more. In leadership, the desire for power, influence, or even money enables the leader to work harder. Within organizational settings, it makes the leader easier to motivate and more reliable in getting things done. However, some care must be taken since ambition may also develop negative traits in the leader.
ClarityIn organizational leadership, clarity enables a leader to have a clear vision and, thus, to lead an organization towards achieving it. It means that with clarity, the chances of succeeding are higher than without clarity. A leader who allows himself to be derailed or discouraged by obstacles is not an effective organizational leader.
CelebrationIt implies appreciating one’s efforts and achievements as they come. Leaders that cannot celebrate their achievements are unlikely to recognize the efforts and achievements of their subordinates, thus, they are not giving them a pat in the back when necessary. Without celebration, leaders are also more likely to experience burnout as they lose motivation after working too hard for too long

Organizational Circumstances in Times of Crisis

This part of the study used about 25 texts related to organizational crises. For this exercise, a crisis was defined as any situation, within which an organization’s ability to achieve set goals and objectives is under threat. The threat, in this case, could be an actual crisis, or a perceived one, depending on the specific circumstances of the organization in question (Klann, n.d.). Companies often perceive a crisis based on the level, at which the threat can affect their goals and objectives. Anticipating a threat often means that a crisis is likely to create anxiety amongst employees (Boin, Hart, McConnell & Preston, 2010).

It was found that during an organizational crisis, employees reported being anxious, worried, and even scared (Boin et al., 2010). A crisis often threatens an organization’s sustainability, meaning that there is always a chance that a company will become vulnerable and even fail to recover after a crisis. Such a level of ambiguity often leads to significant concerns concerning job security, and it could lead to a significant loss of employees. Other than just facing the crisis at hand, a company in question also risks losing its employees to an organization more stable in the industry (Brocato, Jelen, Schmidt, & Gold, 2011).

It can also be appreciated that most employees were not sure about the details regarding the crisis that their respective organizations were facing (Vinger & Cilliers, 2006). Such a response means that it is a common practice for organizations to keep their stuff in the dark when facing a crisis. In some cases, this strategy may be a justifiable practice especially if the media is harassing employees for the inside information. However, being uninformed makes subordinates use their imagination and thus fear for the worst. As such, they did nothing to help with the situation. In fact, most employees started looking for another job while others started looking at their business plans and credit scores as they thought of alternatives in the case the company went down due to the crisis at hand.

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Another finding here indicated that during a crisis, leaders usually spent a lot of time locked up in meetings. They generally became unavailable to their subordinates, making it difficult to get any work done within an organization in question. Moreover, most organizational leaders rely on other leaders for advice and help in handling the crises. They barely have time to interact or even seek solutions from their subordinates. While some employees appreciated the efforts of their leaders with respect to the crises, most of them were unaware of specific actions taken to deal with the crisis. It means that they were able neither to criticize nor to appreciate the efforts made towards resolving the crisis. The content analysis findings further established that the organizational crises are often blamed on the leadership, seeing as most of the employees felt that the crisis in their respective organization could have been avoided by using effective leadership practices. A good number of subordinates also felt that the crisis could have been handled better. However, these assumptions were mostly based on the information that they had acquired from external sources.

From these findings, six critical factors were seen to define the organizational atmosphere during a crisis. They include anxiety, leadership presence, communication, collaboration, clarity, and trust. Employees within the stated organizations were anxious about the future of the organization and, thus, their jobs. The leaders were not really present during the crisis since they were always in meetings and thus unreachable. Consequently, the employees did not receive clear communication about the crisis from their management. Moreover, leaders did not consult with employees regarding the crisis as the last were considered to lack a clear vision of the crisis resolution. In general, employees also did not trust that their leaders had done their best to resolve the crisis. Thus, it can be appreciated that the organizational crises create a tense work environment, in which employees are too worried to focus on anything else other than the fact that they could lose their jobs soon.

The Case Study

The case study involved two companies that had not been very successful in handling their crises. Both companies, however, managed to survive, with significant damage to the organizational performance in either case. Thus, the focus here was put on the leadership traits held by their top management at the time of the crisis. The key concept is to highlight successful aspects of crisis management in either case in order to establish the traits that were effective in the context of managing an organizational crisis. Organizations will be labeled as X and Y. The organizations were specifically investigated based on the information on the organizational circumstances during a crisis as provided by findings of the content analysis.

Table 2

The Outcomes of the Crises in the Organizations X and Y

FactorsOrganization XOrganization Y
AnxietyLowHigh
CommunicationAverageMinimal
PresenceMinimalMinimal
CollaborationMinimalMinimal
ClarityAverageMinimal
TrustHighLow

 

Chapter 5: Conclusions, Discussion, and Recommendations

Conclusions Based Upon the Research Findings

This study focused on establishing the relevant leadership traits needed in the organizational contexts, organizational circumstances, within which the crisis management takes place and the level of these circumstances within given organizations in the crisis. It can be appreciated that both organizations in the case study survived their respective crises albeit different outcomes in terms of the organizational performance. Organization Y lost a lot of its employees, thus taking longer to recover from the crisis as compared to Organization X. Similarly, in times of crisis, one of the real dangers that a company faces considers its human resources. Thus, the following conclusions can be drawn from the results regarding the situation, within which an organizational leader has to operate during a crisis.

Anxiety – Naturally, employees always worry about the fate of their organization. The organizational crises threaten the position and survival of a company, meaning that after a crisis, there is always a possibility that it will fall, whether suddenly or gradually. With these kinds of fears in mind, it is understandable that most employees would start looking for alternative ways to earn a living. Moreover, seeing as there is a looming uncertainty within an organization at the time of a crisis, it can be expected that employees would not be able to concentrate on their tasks. Rather, they would be imagining the worst and worrying all through. Organization Y lost more employees that Organization X, particularly because the anxiety levels at Organization Y were too high to encourage the staff to stay. With all the worrying, these people had to seek out solutions rather than waiting for the communication or resolution, which they were not certain would ever come.

Communication – With all the leaders being focused on the crisis, there is no one to communicate effectively with the employees. In addition, there is not much in terms of accurate information to calm down employees and get them to focus on work. When subordinates have to rely on the third party for the information regarding the kind of crisis that their organization is facing, they are likely to get distorted data. In this scenario, employees’ perception of the crisis will be far worse than the problem actually is. In some situations, the minimal communication is aimed at restricting the amount of insider information, to which the media may gain access. However, it only worsens the situation by making employees rely on their imagination and the storytelling skills of the media. It can also be appreciated that Organization X had more communication than Organization Y; thus, communication may have played a great role in saving the situation in Organization X.

Presence – Dealing with an organizational crisis is often a very demanding task, meaning that it is likely that the organization’s leadership will be tied up at day-long meetings with various stakeholders. Thus, it is very understandable for employees to spend a few days without seeing their leaders as frequently as they used to. Nevertheless, without leaders in the office at a time when employees are almost panicking is not a good thing. The employees not only lose motivation and inspiration but also directly with respect to their work. They are practically lost at the time of a crisis, and without their leaders, they have no guidance to keep working.

Collaboration – Usually, employees expect some level of consideration for the collaboration when it comes to handling a crisis. For example, if the crisis is related to a company’s product in terms of quality, it is only natural for employees at the manufacturing plant to have a personal opinion about the situation. The problem, however, is that in most cases, the crises are handled at the top tier of an organization. It means that leaders are likely to lock themselves up at a meeting and decide on a course of action. It implies distancing from the stuff that may have a solution to the whole problem at their fingertips. When companies finally resolve their crises without consulting relevant employees, these people are likely to feel undervalued and unappreciated with respect to their potential and input in the organization.

Clarity – In the second content analysis, it was noted that most employees did not feel that their leaders had handled the crisis adequately. A lack of clarity, thus, characterizes most organization’s leadership during a crisis. While most opinions were based on the limited information that employees had, they imply that leaders were generally not prepared enough in their handling of the crisis. If leaders in question knew exactly what they were setting out to achieve, probably, they would have foreseen all the problems, with which organizations had to deal. They include the high turnover numbers and the steep decline in sales among other issues. The leadership in Organization X was at least able to prevent high turnover rates and, thus, limited the damage faced in the aftermath of the organizational crisis.

Trust – Another general factor as identified within the organization during a crisis is trust. For employees to stay within an organization, they had to trust their leaders would do what is best for them and for an organization, as a whole. Even when employees do not know what is really going on within an organization, it is important that they are able to trust the decisions that their leaders will make. Without trust, it can be expected that the stuff will start walking away and looking for more stable employment opportunities outside an organization. Trust eases the tension within the organization in question, enabling employees to work rather than worry during their working hours.

Discussion

The findings in this study help to shed light on the kind of traits that an effective leader would require for handling a crisis. Using the identified traits for the effective leadership, organizational circumstances during a crisis, and the critical factors determining the performance of the organization during and after a crisis, a number of things can be said. First, using the conclusions presented above, it is clear that there are a number of problems that affect the organization more within a crisis (Vinger & Cilliers, 2006). For effective leadership outcomes in the organizational crises, these problems will have to be considered when coming up with the list of leadership traits required during a crisis. Each of the challenges presented can be solved using a particular combination of leadership traits that were discussed earlier. Thus, this part of the study is dedicated to finding the right combinations for each of the six challenges as experienced by an organization in crisis.

Anxiety

In the case of an organizational crisis, anxiety is borne out of disconnection in organizational communication. Employees are forced to rely on their imagination and other third-party sources in order to find out what is happening in their organization. As a leader, the main role is to deal with this anxiety effectively (Vinger & Cilliers, 2006). Effective handling of anxiety issues involves not only being able to provide the right information but also getting employees to believe in the information that is being provided. To do it, the traits that the leader must possess include bearing, empathy, integrity, coolness, and tact. The bearing will allow employees to trust in the character of a leader, as will integrity do (Vinger & Cilliers, 2006). On the other hand, empathy will enable a leader to be patient while talking to employees, as he/she will be able to understand their anxiety and possible frustration. Tact will then enable this leader to communicate the actual situation without alarming subordinates. Moreover, since z leader or a manager is also a part of the organization and may suffer from his/her anxiety and uncertainty challenges, the introspective approach will help such a leader remain rational. Analyzing challenges from an introspective perspective helps a leader stay focused while executing leadership roles and responsibilities during a crisis (Lekganyane & Oosthuizen, 2006).

Communication

Communicating with employees during a crisis requires tact, coolness, clarity, honesty, and a sense of humor. Usually, employees have already heard about the crisis and thus they possess little information about what is going on. It means that a leader should be able to approach them with the relevant data in a way that will not worsen their anxiety or confusion. A leader without tact is likely to create panic as they give real information about the crisis. With tact, however, the leader will be able to pass on accurate data in a way that is understandable and yet not alarming. The coolness will also ensure that a leader does not show any signs of their worrying or anxiety. Here, it is important to note that employees will be relying on their leader to offer them reassurance about the organization’s situation. If a leader shows a sign of panic, the uncertainty will only worsen among employees. A leader that has clarity stands a better chance when communicating with employees in times of crisis. With a clear vision of what is to be done in order to survive the crisis, a leader will be able to offer much-needed guidance not only for the team but for the organization, as a whole. Honest leaders are easier to believe in even when they say that everything will be alright. The only thing that employees will need to know is whether or not the leader believes that an organization will survive the crisis. Thus, when this leader assures them, they are likely to calm down and keep working. A sense of humor is then helpful in lightening the general mood at the office. During a crisis, leaders often seem too tense, and employees may find it difficult to ask for help or clarification. However, a leader with a sense of humor is easy to approach; thus, it is easier for employees to communicate.

Presence

Most leaders would rather spend time at a meeting than communicate with their employees during a crisis. It is probably because they lack courage, initiative, confidence, and flexibility. Courage enables a leader to remain in the lead even when things are tough. During a crisis, employees look up to the leader for assurance and direction. At this time, however, a leader is also probably not sure about the circumstances, under which an organization is operating. Uncertainty breeds fear in leaders too, and it takes courage to overcome this fear and spend time with even more anxious and worried subordinates. Having initiative means taking the lead even when no one expects a person to do so. It is understandable for leaders to hide in the boardroom during a crisis even though they are needed more on the floor with their team members. A leader who has an initiative will be with his team in times of crisis. On the other hand, confidence will allow a leader to face the team and help subordinates through the crisis by being their true leader. Trusting in one’s abilities provides the right amount of inspiration to complete things that are ordinarily very difficult, like calming down a group of employees who are feeling threatened in terms of their job security (Junjie, Yongkang, & Yang, 2012). As for flexibility, it can be appreciated that the crisis situation presents an altogether new challenge that a leader will have to approach with a new solution. A flexible leader should be able to identify the new conditions, under which they are operating, and thus come up with a new and effective way to approach the problem. Without these traits, it will be very difficult for a leader to spend time in an organization during a crisis since they may only worsen the situation.

Collaboration

Collaboration is about seeking the input of employees within an organization in times of crisis. Collaboration denotes trusting that the employees could help in finding a solution for the organizational crisis (Baubion, 2013). In order to do it, a leader needs to possess humility, commitment, maturity, and celebration, as well as intelligence. Leaders must be humble and mature enough to recognize that they may not be able to solve the crisis on their own. Employees are also in a position to help with the ideas; thus, it is sound to consult with them concerning the subject. On the other hand, the commitment will ensure that a leader is able to let go of their pride in order to save an organization. With commitment, a leader can be expected to do whatever is needed in order to resolve the situation. The celebration will allow one to appreciate the efforts and abilities of employees, thus, allowing for a consideration of their opinions (Baubion, 2013). A leader who lacks the trait of celebration may not be able to acknowledge the abilities and efforts of employees. Intelligence comes in handy when a leader has to recognize a possible solution as suggested by subordinates. Having a higher intelligence than the stuff also means that a leader may be able to use employees’ ideas to come up with an even better solution.

Clarity

In order to handle a crisis adequately, the leader needs to apply clarity. However, clarity is not just as simple as the trait itself. In order to have a clear vision that can guide an organization through a crisis, a leader needs empathy, decisiveness, and competence (Junjie, Yongkang, & Yang, 2012). Empathy will ensure that a leader is able to act in a way that can be understood by employees. The staff will generally not appreciate any actions that jeopardize the future of an organization regardless of the leader’s perspective. Decisiveness will also ensure that a leader is able to make decisions as needed (Neilson, Martin & Powers, 2008). Dealing with a crisis often involves making a lot of difficult decisions and taking risks. A leader who is not decisive is likely to spend too much time on making these decisions and may even refrain from taking risks. In a scenario like the one described above, it will take an organization more time to deal with the crisis. As for competence, it may be noted that a crisis is not just about leadership. It requires one to know what they are dealing with, in order to come up with a working solution. If it is a customer care crisis, a leader must be able to handle customer care issues competently. It is the only way they will be able to develop and implement an effective solution. Endurance is also important in a crisis, as a leader will have to put in extra hours in order to come up with an adequate solution for ensuring predicament.

Trust

Confidence, justice, candor, and loyalty are the major traits that will enable a leader to gain the unconditional trust of employees. With confidence, a leader will show subordinates that he/she knows what to do and can lead them through the crisis effectively. On the other hand, justice ensures that a leader will always act in the best interests of an organization and its employees (Boateng, 2012). It is particularly true because fairness is about protecting the interests of people that matter. Candor implies an effective and open communication that will allow a leader to explain the plans of the management to employees. Once people understand how their leader is going to resolve the situation, they will develop trust and let him/her do the job. In terms of loyalty, leaders who are loyal to their organization are known to give their best even in times of crisis. Since they want the best for the organization, these leaders are more likely to make the right choices as they seek to resolve the threat and get an organization back to normal. In addition, once employees are able to trust in the leader, they can go back to work and keep a company fully operational during a crisis.

Influence of the Knowledge on the Exercise of Leadership

The findings of this study present a new angle to look at organizations that have been in crisis at one point or another. While leadership is often aimed at providing the direction at a time of crisis, in this study, it is noted that leaders are often susceptible to anxieties and fears just like the rest of people in an organization. In general, it means that without the right leadership traits, the organization’s leaders are likely to fail in their responsibility to the organization in times of crisis. The above scenario means that when evaluating leadership, it is important to consider the leadership traits that were used in a particular situation (Sainsbury, 2015). Leaders often have to be strong enough to get through a crisis, but they also need reassurances that often are not forthcoming. Thus, the exercise of leadership can be defined as a demanding activity that requires intrinsic motivation, especially during a crisis. When everyone is panicking, it is up to a leader whether to exercise self-control and become a pillar of strength, as well as the light that will guide employees out of the crisis into the safe and calm territory. This fact explains why most organizations do not get out of a crisis unscathed despite having such remarkable leaders. These organizations often suffer significant losses in terms of customers, employees, and shareholders, as well as business partners (Wooten & James, 2008). The reality here is that there are a lot of leadership traits that may only be of use during a crisis, thus remaining unidentified and unknown to a leader in question.

Recommendations Concerning Policy and Practice

Leadership is a wide topic with a lot of aspects claiming to be significant in practice and policy. The reality, however, is that the true worth of a leader is not seen in how successful he/she is when an organization is operating under normal circumstances. A true test of leadership is during a crisis. Similarly, in training true leaders, it is important to consider all the leadership traits that have been found effective in times of organizational crisis (Prorokowski, 2014). In this case, it will be beneficial for leadership scholars to consider empathy, decisiveness, competence, confidence, justice, candor, loyalty, commitment, maturity, celebration, intelligence, courage, initiative, flexibility, bearing, integrity, coolness, and tact as some of the basic traits required by effective leaders. It can be appreciated that most leadership traits are natural; leaders, however, can be made. As such, these traits need to be studied and incorporated in the training curriculum at leadership courses.

Assumptions and Limitations

The first assumption in this study was that the managers within the studied organization were well-trained leaders with all the mandatory leadership skills and traits. Each organization has its criteria for picking out the leaders. However, it is a universal standard to seek out people who will take an organization forward regardless of their leadership styles (Zhang, Jia & Gu, 2012). Thus, Organization X and Organization Y were compared with the assumption that they both wanted the same outcomes from their leadership.

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Another assumption considers the definition of a crisis. Each organization applies a particular definition of a crisis depending on their circumstances and the potential of the said threat to its goals and objectives. In this case, it can be appreciated that both organizations were business entities, and the identified crises threatened their market share, reputation, and sustainability in terms of their operational justifications (Zhang, Jia & Gu, 2012). Both organizations need to operate on a global scale in order to be profitable.

In terms of limitations, this study had to be pragmatic to some extent especially with regards to the scope of the data collection and analysis. For the content analysis, there were more than 50,000 texts that matched the inclusion criteria for the study. However, it was practical to include only 25 most recent scholarly sources.

Suggestions for the Future Research

This study has focused on identifying the leadership traits that are useful in the management of an organization during a crisis. They were also discussed with respect to the situations that they help resolve within an organization. Thus, it follows that there is a need to know whether these traits can be learned or not. Leaders are often taken through a number of learning programs aimed at making them better leaders in their respective organizations. In such a manner, it can be expected that there will be a need to incorporate crisis management proficiency in their training programs. Future research should study in details individual traits of empathy, decisiveness, competence, confidence, justice, candor, loyalty, commitment, maturity, celebration, intelligence, courage, initiative, flexibility, bearing, integrity, coolness, and tact in order to establish the ones that can be taught, and the best ways to teach them. IT will ensure that future leadership programs target all effective leadership traits for handling crises within organizational contexts.

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