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"Holding" is an Essential Quality in a Crisis Leadership

Posted by Brian Spence on Aug 12, 2020 8:00:00 AM

Management, LeadershipIn a crisis, leadership is paramount for keeping things under control, boosting employee morale, and taking targeted steps to solve problems. Having a great vision for the company is not enough. A true leader should be able to "hold it together". These are the key components of a crisis leadership:

  • Coping with uncertainty: A great leader is able to keep their presence of mind, exercise intellectual flexibility to evaluate the current situation, and make informed decisions.

  • Listening and communication: Listening, collaborating, and problem-solving lead to specific actions in managing a critical situation. A leader should be a good listener, be nonjudgmental, and be encouraging. This leads to a great boost in employee morale. Leaders should be able to create a platform where the ideas are shared and discussed, leading to cooperation and a purposeful plan of action.

  • Demonstrate empathy: The need for empathy for employees is the greatest in times of crisis. Think of a scenario where there is a big audit happening at the end of the month in your workplace. The leader keeps the situation under control by giving clear expectations, urging increased productivity, and offering empathy and support. They become the role model by working hard alongside the employees while offering clear guidance till the end.

What is Holding?

British psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott conceptualized holding as an inherent leadership quality that is essential in terms of crisis. An intuitive leader is able to provide a kind of holding where a person is able to contain and interpret what is happening in terms of uncertainty. It helps to calm the situation and provides clarity in times of distress.

  • The BP oil spill crisis demonstrated two types of leadership outcomes. The leaders who focused on long term visions and created more demands on the employees were not very effective in managing the situation.

  • The other group who held their employees and provided clear directions on how to get the work done were much more successful in keeping the employee morale high and maintaining the long term credibility of the company.

Holding is clearly a winning parenting strategy. Parents who are available, reassuring, and responsive to their children's needs create a kind of "holding environment" where kids become well-adjusted and inquisitive. They grow up to become confident individuals, not afraid to face challenges, and better equipped to make their own decisions.

If you are a manager, you should aim to create a holding environment in your organization where there is freedom to express new ideas, an environment to collaborate, and a team effort for creating positive outcomes. In times of crisis, you should be able to rely on your advisors and employees to create an immediate plan of action. Remember, employees will never forget how they were treated in face of challenge or a crisis.

To learn more about this and related topics, visit the Management & Leadership section of our blog.


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