In a recent NY Times interview with CEO David Reimer, Adam Bryant asked some fascinating questions about leading through crisis, and how to identify leaders who can bring companies through hard times. Reimer’s answers always came down to leadership values and the ways they become healthy relationships with employees and build sustainable solutions to problems.
Reimer says: “The places that were incredibly effective at going through difficult times well and coming out the other side in good shape had very clear core values and put those values out on the table in the midst of chaos. With organizations and individuals, one’s values are often the values until there’s a crisis, and then people say, “Look, we need to suspend these temporarily while we deal with the crisis and then we’ll put them back into place.”
C.E.O.’s are also, by their nature, pretty invested in this idea that their job is to create clarity out of ambiguity, and then get the organization aligned around that clarity and help drive toward a commonly agreed-upon goal. But clarity doesn’t always mean the absence of paradox. You have to make it simple, clear and doable, but there are times when organizations get in trouble because they try to eliminate ambiguity altogether, and you can’t.”
Sustaining a company’s core values in the midst of crisis… That’s not easy, because crisis brings out the paradox in any situation. Reimer has learned from experience that values-based CEOs succeed because they can maintain clarity without trying to eliminate ambiguity. He identifies two key challenges to staying clear and on-target. First, CEOs are always in a bubble; they are protected from crisis until it permeates the whole company. Second, they have to know how to ask the right questions.
Reimer also has great insights into how to recruit the right leaders. In a nutshell, their values are in alignment with the core values of the company, and they understand the importance of their values, in their personal and professional lives. In other words, they can sustain solutions because they live their values and that means they’ll live them at work, whatever happens. Read more…
Reimer’s looking for authenticity in values, from belief to identity to action.
That makes for sustainability in problem solving, generating ideas and actions that are congruent with a company’s values.
That makes the difference between a quick fix that leads to greater crisis and a solution that helps a company withstand the tests of changing markets and global pressures.
I’ve written a lot about the temptation for leaders to go against their values, (The Bathsheba Syndrome, sports scandals). I’ve also looked at the dangers of leading integrally with our values and authentic selves visible (coming out of the closet, standing in the face of oppression, whistleblowing). Reimer reminds us of a practical requirement that makes ethical behavior and authenticity sustainable: ALIGNMENT with the values of a culture or organization.
The revolutionary leader, misaligned with social or corporate values that cause injustice, risks all when s/he stands up. If s/he survives to help build a more just culture in the organization or nation, the challenge is bringing social custom and government structures into alignment with new values. Reimer’s questions work in this post-revolutionary situation to support effective team-building, bringing the right leaders up based on core values.
Reimer’s model, one that might ideally prevent the need for revolution, imagines creating teams and recruiting leaders in alignment with solid and socially healthy core values like generosity, and personal qualities like curiosity. This kind of team would make adaptive leadership easier, and, if diversity were honored, bring together people with common values who could also identify possible solutions from multiple perspectives.
I like the way he thinks.