Episode 16: Leadership in Times of Calm and Crisis

by | Jul 3, 2024 | Podcast | 0 comments

Rich Cruz: [00:00:00] Welcome back to Harmonious Workplaces. Together, we’ll discuss leadership in times of calm and crisis. What crucial action can change leaders take during a crisis situation within an organization? Keep listening to find out. Welcome to Harmonious Workplaces, a podcast about corporate culture, organizational change management.

Harmonious Workplaces was started by independent consultants Rich Cruz, Ben Kleinman, and Cheryl Volpe to explore, challenge, and build on various organizational culture and change management concepts. It’s a blend of theory and practice based on their personal and professional experiences working with companies of all sizes across various industries.

If you own a business, lead a team, want new ideas about the corporate environment, Or just want to listen to a group of consultants talking about how to make work more enjoyable. We invite you to sit back, relax, and dive in with us to Harmonious Workplaces. [00:01:00] Hello Harmonious Workplaces listeners. As always, we’re glad to see you today.

I’m Rich Kruse and I’m joined by my colleague, Cheryl Volpe. Hi Rich. Hey Cheryl. Hi

Sharyl Volpe: everyone. Hey Ben.

Rich Cruz: And Ben Kleinman. Hey everyone. And so the last few weeks, we’ve been talking about leadership and so let’s keep the discussion going today. We’re going to be talking about, you know, so there are these times where things are going great and we’re nice and calm and, you know, everything’s, we all, we Whether it’s smooth or not, it’s calm, right?

Calm seas. And then, we have the crisis, right? We have the, the, the storm. And we need leadership in both of these situations. You know, the last time we talked about some of the the different types of leadership going on this continuum from laissez faire to transformational, you know, and, and everything in [00:02:00] between.

But yeah, let’s talk a little bit about, about calm and crisis. What do we think? Yeah.

Ben Kleinman: Yeah. And I’m, I’m curious to dig in cause I feel like sometimes there’s principles that Hold true at all times. And then other times you need a leader to be someone who is different in, in one situation versus another.

So I’m really curious to see where you guys, where you guys have seen this go, how it’s worked. Well, sure, sure.

Sharyl Volpe: And we have touched in the past about how a crisis, speaking about that other side of a person, then can bring out those resiliency skills that some people don’t even know that are there until they are confronted with that unexpected.


Ben Kleinman: Mm hmm. Mm hmm. For sure. Where do you guys want to start? Do you want to start with Calm or with Crisis?

Rich Cruz: Well, I, I’m going to throw, I’m going to throw a wrinkle that we didn’t talk about into this. Okay. So, just to, just to illustrate some things. So, last [00:03:00] week, last week, we didn’t have Cheryl here because Cheryl was out you know, Looking at horseshoe crabs.

And we have another arthropod thing going on here in the Chicagoland where we are just inundated with cicadas everywhere. So we have these, you know, what I would say, we have this very calm kind of situation with the horseshoe crabs and maybe I’m wrong, but they seem to be pretty docile things, right?

And then we have, Super quiet, right? And now here we have people in crisis mode with the super loud you know, cicadas that are going on here. So you know, I, I think this, this kind of, there’s, there’s two, there’s two things to talk about here, right? On the calm side, we’ve got [00:04:00] the, the calm seas, kind of the, the navigator using kind of the.

Going with the horseshoe crab situation, we’re, we’re in a we’re, we’re a sailor and a, or, or a captain on a ship, right? And column seas, right? And, and we have all these, you know, kinda chill things happening. And then on the other side, you know, we’ve got the storm, we’ve got the same captain has to, has to lead us through the storm.

And, you know, the swirling. Would that be Cicada, Cicada gate, or

Ben Kleinman: is it Cicada Gatton?

Rich Cruz: Cicada Gatton. All right. So what have you seen in times of calm that, that have, that worked for you you know, in, you know, in, or in your organization, whether it’s through a change situation or whether it’s, you know, just operations, what, what, what have you seen then that has worked in terms of leadership?

Sharyl Volpe: It’s an excellent metaphor, Rich, because in my experience, when there are periods of calm, we try to create, and this [00:05:00] is what the horseshoe crabs were doing. They were creating our next generation. So during those times, I have experienced a desire to innovate. Improve that’s a company that is not leaning towards the complacency, which can also happen and things can become almost too easy, too quiet.

There is no innovation. There is no improvement, which can in itself caused the crisis without proper leadership to keep things moving forward. Sure. Ideally, this is a time to gather your forces, assess what worked last season, last year, last quarter. Take the opportunity in that call. To plan improvements or to get better.

Without the pressure. I really

Ben Kleinman: like that. Yeah, that’s that’s really cool And it ties into some some of the themes that we’ve talked about Many times over where you need a leader who can [00:06:00] recognize that this Stretch of calm is an opportunity. It won’t necessarily last forever and And let’s be thoughtful about how we take advantage of that.

What are some things that I can intentionally do to tell my people, to let my organization know that now is a good time to start thinking about innovation, to start going back and looking at what worked well, what What opportunities maybe do we see coming or what did we have on the back burner that we maybe didn’t prioritize before.

What can we advance forward or just how can we make this organization better internally without necessarily doing anything external? What can we do to improve that psychological safety or what we called it a psychological beanbag or safety beanbag and in prior episodes, what can we do to make that a bigger, fuller, stuffier, softer beanbag?

Right? So it’s those kinds of things. I really like that. But that takes a certain type of leader. Like what are some of those qualities that you’ve seen in, in, in those times of calm, [00:07:00] what are some of those qualities that you’ve seen that those leaders show or, or bring to the fore?

Sharyl Volpe: Sure.

Rich Cruz: Well, I think what I’m, for me When it comes, when it gets too calm, right.

And, and, and you’re right. What, you know, it’s a time for creation as a time for reassessment. It’s a time for reflection and to, and to you know, figure out what can we do to grow. Right. I, I think that there’s, there’s this thing that maybe I’ve had this drilled into me with all the coaches that I’ve ever had.

But, you know when you’re out of your comfort zone, you’re growing, right? So when you can take people out of that, out of, out of their comfort zone and challenge them to do something more so you’re kind of adding in a little. Maybe controlled crisis into their you know, there’s, there’s [00:08:00] stress and stress can be distress, right?

Which is bad stress and then you stress, which is helpful stress, right? So if you can bring as a leader, if you can bring that, you stress and by. created some challenging goals. I, I found that that doing some workshops with, you know, setting goals short term long term can break the complacency cycle and can you know, achieve some of those, those objectives of moving things forward.

Ben Kleinman: Is that part of the growth that Cheryl was talking about? Taking this as an opportunity to grow. internally where you introduce a little bit of, of structured stress or structured I don’t want to call it structured chaos, but structured stress maybe, or structured growth opportunities where you sort of encourage people to get out of their comfort zone, to try something a little bit different to know that [00:09:00] if it goes wrong, they, you know, that, that the rest of the organization is, is very stable right now, so they can do a off on the side and not worry about disrupting.

core business processes or what have you.

Rich Cruz: Yeah, yeah. That’s that’s exactly it. I mean, it’s, we, we always, I, I don’t think there’s a business owner out there, right. For so. I’m going to take the side of the, of, of, of the business owner of this, right. Where they don’t, they, I don’t think there’s a point where they just want status quo.

They, they want to see growth and for a couple of reasons, right. They want more revenue, they want reduced risk and they want more time in their business. Right. And that’s where the people come in. Right. So I think that you know, taking these opportunities for growth when things are. Leveled off.

Yeah, I, I, I think that’s where, that’s where you have to add a little of that you stress in [00:10:00] there,

Sharyl Volpe: right? And I’m sure you both touched on it last week when we were talking about different leadership styles from the transactional laissez faire to the transformational, right? Even a laissez faire type or transactional type of leader can still prevent complacency, giving new challenges to those super achievers who don’t need.

monitoring all the time or can function independently. Even those folks should be given opportunities for some of that discomfort just to keep their skills sharp, you know, especially in today’s economy. I mean, the whole upskilling thing, if you’re not, if you’re not understanding what that means, and if you’re not keeping up in times of calm with learning new things.

And that’s not what a business owner, to your point, Rich, clearly [00:11:00] would want.

Ben Kleinman: Cool. So we’ve started off this whole episode talking about leadership styles in the idea of being a type of leader in the situation where it’s relatively calm, relatively stable, relatively horseshoe crab. And we’ve talked about leadership in the time of crisis or Cicada Gidden and how that might need a different type of leadership.

We’ll get into that part in the next segment. One of the things that we’ve talked about, or some of the things we’ve talked about in that time of calm where we’ve been focused mostly so far is this idea that it’s a really good opportunity to step back and allow. and intentionally provide that opportunity for your team, your organization to reassess, to focus on innovation, to focus on growth.

It could be personal growth, could be organizational growth, could be team growth. Give people that opportunity. And if they’re not taking it, maybe introduce just a little bit [00:12:00] of that stress so that they can. Get out of their comfort zone and let them know that, that this is their time to do that. While the rest of the organization is very stable

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Speaker 4: Okay. I was

Rich Cruz: at, I was once working for a company where there was, I was an internal consultant for them and. What we did was when we were at, you know, there, there were peaks and valleys in our, in our sales cycle. Right. So when we were in that, that lull, which was in the earlier, like the first quarter, right.

We really took that time to do there’s personal. Development. And then there was team development that, you know, that, that we did during that time you know, so it doesn’t have to be like cyclical like that, you know, but that, that, in that case, we were very [00:14:00] intentional about when we, when we did that

Ben Kleinman: and that was something that rich was part of the culture that was driven by leadership.

That was, yeah, that was

Rich Cruz: actually very, I found that to be a pretty refreshing part of. of how that organization was structured. Nice.

Sharyl Volpe: Right. And for us at Mystery Science Theater, we were between seasons when we developed the comic book series. Oh, there you go. Relative Calm. So.

Rich Cruz: Oh man, I put the, I had the comic book right here.

for like two weeks. And if I had known, I would have had it.

Sharyl Volpe: That’s one of the more memorable things that came out of that period of calm. How about you, Ben?

Ben Kleinman: We’ll put that in the, in the show notes, a link to the,

Rich Cruz: there you go. I will. That’s great.

Ben Kleinman: The Cheryl comic book.

Sharyl Volpe: Did you have an experience Ben of similar nature where you were between high energy [00:15:00] crisis periods where something innovative came out of it?

Ben Kleinman: I think it’s, it’s, it’s varied by company and by industry, and it seems like the better companies that are more focused on that will take the opportunity to look at it like we’ve talked about and say, okay, let’s, you know, we’ve just finished X, or we just came out of this massive transformation, or we just, You know, went through a period of lots of disruption, maybe it wasn’t crisis, but it was some sort of organizational transformation and they said, let’s look at being a little bit intentional about not introducing another change right away.

Let’s look at this group. Let’s just give them a little bit of steady state and do some continuous improvement. And they bake in that sort of continuous improvement refinement time before they layer on a whole new massive change. Assuming there’s no disruption in the industry, they layer on that kind of, [00:16:00] let’s just give a little bit of breathing space so people can get back to their, you know, normal, if you will.

And then we can. Kind of put them back in the, okay, you’re ready for the next spin type of thing where we do something very different for your group,

Sharyl Volpe: right? And that’s, that’s neat. You work with so many different companies, but you, those, those companies who take advantage of that stand out in your mind is.

Superior. More successful. Yeah.

Ben Kleinman: Yeah, right. Cool. Let’s dig into some crisis, and we’ve kind of talked a little bit about crisis before, but in terms of leadership, I don’t think we’ve talked as much about leadership, leadership styles. And Rich, you gave a a nice summary of what we talked about last episode.

Maybe we could think about types of leadership for crisis modes or modes where maybe it’s not at. And I think of crisis maybe as an external crisis or an existential crisis, but maybe where there’s some big churn or lots of, [00:17:00] lots of things going on, lots of swirl within the organization that causes people to be distracted from their day to day or pulls people away from their regular business process type of stuff.

What are, what are some of the leadership styles that you’ve seen work really well in times of crisis, churn, chaos?

Rich Cruz: Yeah. Well, one thing I can tell you is that sometimes, sometimes we know what the crisis is or, you know, where the conflict come from, it comes from, right? Sometimes that’s, that’s pretty obvious and people are talking about it and all that.

And then there are times where it’s felt, but nobody really kind of fully understands what is going on there. So sometimes some data collection really helps, you know, and that could be you know, sometimes a pulse survey throughout the, you know, certain sectors of the, of the organization can, can help to [00:18:00] kind of quantify what is going on here.

What’s, you know, what’s happening affect there was a 2020 addition of organizational development review that talks about that, right to, to do a pulse survey, particularly through some event of organizational change to figure out what is exactly causing conflict or crisis, you know, that, that, that could be inhibiting resistance.

So I think that’s the first thing is like assess what’s going on here. And, and so we can, we can deal with that.

Sharyl Volpe: Right. And that survey data is. Again, dependent on that psychological safety, you know, this is an anonymous survey. How do you really feel about these things? And, you know, there’s often a distrust around that anonymity and people aren’t able to speak their minds, but in the ideal situation where everyone says, well, yeah, there is something very unsettling.

Happening here that we suspect there’s a shift shifting sands, [00:19:00] something that’s just beyond our knowing. Maybe the communication could be clearer and leadership can take some valuable data from an honest pulse check like that. It’s a really good point.

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Ben Kleinman: So in, in terms of some of the things that we’ve thought about for leadership or leader styles in time of calm, it’s a little bit of that thoughtfulness. It’s a little bit of that reassurance, giving people the space to innovate, the space, to grow the space, to reassess and think about improving. Or, or Cheryl, you talked about that creativity, giving that room for creativity to, to breathe and come to life.

[00:21:00] Are there different leadership styles that we would want to see in times of crisis then?

Rich Cruz: Well I will go back to cause I, I think actually innovation and creativity can even stem from the crisis situation Cicada Gatton, just like the, just like those horseshoe crabs, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s about a bunch of, bunch of organisms getting together to, you know, make another generation.

So Yeah, so there is, you know, there is something to be said for the, the swirl happening where, you know innovation can, can, can come from that and, and creativity can come from that. And when, I think when a leader can absorb that information, absorb that data and make sense of it and, and use that, you know, at that level five level, right.

Where they’re humble. And yet they’re, they’re, they’re in it to win it. Right. I think when, when they can take all of [00:22:00] that information and be, I don’t want to put this, objective and empathetic at the same time, which is, which is a tough, that’s a, that’s a tough thing to do. Right. But I think that when they can do that.

And they can elicit that feedback and get all the diverse, you know, points of view and then help, help the organization to prioritize that there’s some really great things that come out of that. I mean, when we saw that during COVID, you know, there was so many different things that have stemmed out of that situation, you know, how, how we communicate with each other.

I mean, like. Zoom conferences and podcasts and things like this that we’re, that we’re doing right now, you know are, are commonplace with our, they, they weren’t, they weren’t that common before that. Right. And, and we’ve found value in doing this kind of stuff.

Ben Kleinman: Do you think that there’s a [00:23:00] different style of communication?

That a leader would need in column versus crisis? Or do you think there’s a different sense of of, of pace in terms of in times of crisis? Do you feel like there’s a need to do something more rapidly?

Sharyl Volpe: That’s a great question.

Rich Cruz: Well, that’s a great question.

Sharyl Volpe: Right?

Rich Cruz: What do you think, Ben?

throw that back at you, .

Ben Kleinman: I do. I think that in. In times of, of crisis. And, you know, we were talking about this a little bit before the show, it’s very helpful to have someone who. can be the, the voice of the organization, the voice of authority. And it doesn’t necessarily mean authority in a sort of penal colony way.

It means authority in terms of here’s what’s going on. Here’s what we know. Here’s what we don’t know. Here’s how we’re going to communicate with you. Here’s how we’re [00:24:00] going to communicate with you across different channels. Here’s what Pace. We’re going to give you updates or we’ll update you as new information emerges, things like that.

It seems like it works well when there’s one voice and it could be a team behind that voice, but it seems like it’s very helpful to have one kind of voice or figurehead that people can. Look to and rally around as opposed to maybe in Tom’s times of calm. It’s okay to sort of have lots of things going on in and maybe things are boiling at different times and maybe different voices are louder at different times.

But in times of, of true crisis or really heavy churn within an organization, it’s helpful to have one person that’s just sort of saying, look, this is, this is what we’re doing. This is our main focus right now. Here’s the main priority. Everything else you’re doing, If it’s not in service of this, consider back burnering for now.

And it’s really helpful to do that. And to just be a [00:25:00] little bit more direct, a little bit more authoritative, still, like you say, be empathetic, still look for opinions, solicit new opinions, solicit, maybe disconfirming information is, is one way I’ve heard it called, but to really be that person or that group, that team that says, here’s, here’s what’s going on.

We’re the authority. We’re going to. Make sure that everyone knows what they need to know, and that we’re on some sort of schedule to get us back to a little bit more steady state, a little bit more calm. We’re going to get through this crisis together. Here’s how we’re going to do it. Here’s how we’re going to update you.

Here’s how we’re all going to move forward and make this better. a little bit smoother. And I found that there’s a different, a different tone, a different pace, a different style of leader that does that in a way that’s better than maybe in times of calm. It could be the same person, but it’s just flexing different muscles.

Sharyl Volpe: Right. Right. And we tell stories to assemble a [00:26:00] meeting and everybody will be telling their own story about what. is happening in a crisis. So that unified authority voice that can be trusted and consistent and transparent is key to keep everyone on the same page, as you were saying, Ben, you know, otherwise there’s back channeling.

There’s all sorts of damaging behaviors that can emerge from people guessing. Or expecting the worst or projecting what they think might be happening. So that voice is, is really important. And there’s also an external urgency, internal and external urgency to communication during a crisis, which is different than during times of calm.

And that you’ve got, you know, there’s, there’s a reputation and external reputation and an internal reputation to protect during times of crises. So that is. A difference in how communication happens [00:27:00] between the urgency of a crisis and the relative calm. Of a non crisis period.

Ben Kleinman: Yeah, that’s a great point.

There’s maybe heightened awareness. So you have to be a little bit more Cautious or a little bit more proactive maybe about I should say about protecting your reputation about protecting your organization And the the optics of what’s going on. I think that’s a really great point. Sure, right

Rich Cruz: Yeah, so if I can use the My, my, my never ending mixed metaphors here

But to go back to the nautical part of it you know, the being a beacon of stability and clear communication, kind of being the, the, the lighthouse, so to speak you know, in the, in that, that, fog, right? Where we’re, people can focus on, on that person as being the source of stability, the place where we’re going to get all the [00:28:00] communication centralized, right?

And that just helps to quell the, you know, the panic that people feel it focuses their energy towards, you know, what that person’s saying. And then people, you know, just build, it builds their confidence and trust, you know and what’s happening. Right.

Sharyl Volpe: And not to take your metaphor into a tortured area, but I will say that the, the horseshoe crabs, they, they need the full moon.

To be triggered into this, you know, 500 million year old tradition that they have of coming onto the shore to do what they have to do. It only happens during the full moon. So that beacon is very real and very literal, right?

Rich Cruz: Right, right. You know, it’s

Sharyl Volpe: relatively more calmed. What I experienced versus the cicadas relatively calm, but for the horseshoe crabs, you know, it’s, it’s fairly high stress situation.

I’m sure for them to, you know, [00:29:00] sometimes they come out and they’re flipped over and they can’t get flipped back over until the next wave comes. And, you know, and in the next day, you know, you see a little bit of

Rich Cruz: the

Sharyl Volpe: aftermath the next day, like not, not everybody makes it back in, you know, so. I like

Ben Kleinman: that.

I think that maybe is a nice, a nice metaphor for times of calm being that navigator and times of crisis being more of the beacon.

Sharyl Volpe: That’s a great way to start. Those are

Ben Kleinman: two nice, nice metaphors. Yeah. So as we think about wrapping up the show, it seems like in terms of different leadership styles, we started off talking about times of calm and coming to that metaphor of being the navigator, allowing your team that space to reassess, to be creative, to innovate.

Giving maybe a little bit of, of proactive, thoughtful stress to get people out of their comfort zone [00:30:00] and grow intentionally. And then in times of crisis, thinking about leaders as being that beacon, that central point of where we’re going to focus our attention. And giving people the sense that there is a place we’re going to, and we’re going to get there and here’s how, and we’re going to have a slightly different communication style and a communication rhythm.

And this is, this is everything we’re going to focus on and we’re going to guide you through this whole thing. So I like that. That’s, that’s two nice ways of, of, of thinking about the two different comms.

Rich Cruz: Yeah. That’s good. And it’s not to say that, I mean, like during that crisis part, like. We, there’s still, there’s still kind of, in my opinion, it’s still, there still needs to be some degree of stress there to get through it, right?

Just to have the energy to get through something. So you, so we, you know, we don’t want to downplay that there’s something serious going on here. [00:31:00] But we need to focus the energy and make it more positive, you know, to, to get through.

Ben Kleinman: It’s it’s a, I like that. It’s a different, a different way of focusing energy.

Right. Maybe instead of a broader, mushier focus, it’s a very targeted laser like focus. Beacon like focus.

Rich Cruz: Beacon like focus.

Ben Kleinman: Yeah. Not mushy.

Sharyl Volpe: That’s okay.

Ben Kleinman: Right. Right. So is there, in prior times, we’ve often said that there is maybe one thing people can do to achieve success in times of calm or one thing people can do in times of crisis.

Is there one thing that, that we would want to have people hang their hat on in either calm or crisis?

Rich Cruz: One thing in each of those, or, or one thing in both of those.

Ben Kleinman: If you can do one thing in both, wow. Wow.

Sharyl Volpe: I [00:32:00] think there’s, there’s one thing that I’m thinking of that if it’s missing, nothing happens in either case. And it is communication. It’s communication. We always come back to that. Crisp and crystal clear, consistent communication without it, You know, you can’t innovate without a direction and you can’t problem solve without.

Ben Kleinman: All right. I like it. Cheryl, you’ve done it. You’ve got the wow. You brought the wow to the show.

Sharyl Volpe: I communicated.

Ben Kleinman: Hey, crisply, cool, right. Thoughtfully and with intention and authoritative words.

Rich Cruz: And that works for, for all.

Ben Kleinman: Nice. Cool. Well, this was fun. I had a good time learning from you both today.

Rich Cruz: Likewise.

Thanks a million. Awesome. Well, I hope our listeners [00:33:00] enjoyed this episode. Tune in next time. We will continue our discussion about all things having to do with making a harmonious workplace. Find us at your favorite streaming platforms, Spotify, Apple, Amazon, Podbean. And yada, yada, yada. It’s all over.

Check the show notes for more information. And with that, we will see you all next time on Harmonious Workplaces. Bye everyone.

Thanks for listening to Harmonious Workplaces. You can find Harmonious Workplaces on LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, Spotify, Amazon, Apple, and other streaming platforms. We’d love any feedback on whatever channel you find us on. Please rate, like, and share our podcast with your network, and remember to add Harmonious Workplaces to your list of favorites to get notified about each new episode.

To contact Rich or Cheryl, [00:34:00] please visit www. WorkBalanceConsulting. com. To connect with Ben, find him on LinkedIn, or visit at www. HarborSideStrategy. com.

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