United by the Crisis — Strengthened Out of It

The joint fight against an exis­ten­tial threat is able to weld peo­ple togeth­er in an orga­ni­za­tion. The pre­req­ui­site for this is a cli­mate of psy­cho­log­i­cal safe­ty and lead­er­ship with pur­pose and trust instead of com­mand and control.

The famous poem “The Road Not Tak­en” by Robert Frost ends with the lines: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less trav­eled by, And that has made all the dif­fer­ence.” In the same way, exec­u­tives are faced with the choice between the roman­ti­cal­ly over­grown path towards a lead­er­ship that is essen­tial­ly based on pur­pose and trust and self-orga­ni­za­tion on the one hand, and the already well-trod­den path of clas­si­cal-hier­ar­chi­cal man­age­ment with com­mand and con­trol on the other.

This choice has always exist­ed, but now in times of cri­sis it is being made with new dra­ma, because now it seems to be no longer a choice between good and bet­ter, but rather a ques­tion of to be or not to be. In this respect, it now requires a great deal of courage to take the less trod­den path or — if already tak­en — to fol­low it con­sis­tent­ly. Espe­cial­ly when in many places the strong cap­tain on the bridge is being praised and demand­ed right now.

But per­haps, pre­cise­ly because of the cri­sis, it is even eas­i­er to take this path towards pur­pose and trust. The shock of an exis­ten­tial threat may at least tem­porar­i­ly lift indi­vid­u­als in the orga­ni­za­tion out of their pro­fane inter­nal com­pe­ti­tion and allow them to expe­ri­ence a strong focus on a com­mon pur­pose in the strug­gle for sur­vival. The exis­ten­tial dis­tress of the cri­sis is able to weld an orga­ni­za­tion together.

Fear of a threat to the com­mu­ni­ty unites. But fear of some­one with­in the com­mu­ni­ty divides and cor­rodes. It cor­rupts both him who uses fear and him who fears.

Peter F. Drucker

How­ev­er, the deci­sive fac­tor is that lead­er­ship, espe­cial­ly now, on the one hand pro­vides psy­cho­log­i­cal safe­ty on the inside and, on the oth­er hand, ensures relent­less clar­i­ty about the sit­u­a­tion, the threat on the out­side and the joint strat­e­gy to fight it. If this suc­ceeds, one can hope for the cre­ativ­i­ty and moti­va­tion of the peo­ple con­cerned and thus for solu­tions and ways that no sin­gle cap­tain, how­ev­er bril­liant, could ever imag­ine. If there is a lack of safe­ty in par­tic­u­lar, this will only dri­ve the wedge of com­pe­ti­tion even deep­er between people.

The cri­sis and the joint fight against the threat requires uni­ty. If this uni­ty is based on pur­pose and trust, peo­ple will be unit­ed by the shared expe­ri­ence and the orga­ni­za­tion will emerge from the cri­sis with a stronger sense of uni­ty. On the oth­er hand, those who want to impose uni­ty through com­mand and con­trol in a cul­ture of pres­sure and fear will only receive short-term obe­di­ence and will miss this unique opportunity.

The only thing that will redeem mankind is coop­er­a­tion, and the first step towards coop­er­a­tion lies in the hearts of individuals.

Bertrand Rus­sell (1954), Man’s Peril

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By Marcus Raitner

Hi, I'm Marcus. I'm convinced that elephants can dance. Therefore, I accompany organizations on their way towards a more agile way of working. Since 2010 I regularly write about leadership, digitization, new work, agility, and much more in this blog. More about me.

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