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10 essential leadership steps to get out of a crisis.

On the BBC News channel this afternoon, Alastair Campbell sums up the ten things he’d be doing if he were managing the communications of Government today. They’re ten things that stand well for any leader and their team right now:

Former No 10 Senior Advisor, Alastair Campbell

1. You need to develop, execute, and narrate strategy

And for that, you need to have a clear strategy to start with. Clear strategy is short, back-of-a-postcard stuff, and it is mostly verbs. The bit at the top of the image below is the vision Calderglen High School are trying to realise. How they go about it like this:

— Let’s help each other to be brave enough to fail and tough enough to bounce back.

— Let’s grow our networks to make the whole world our school.

— Let’s become famous for how we work together.

— Let’s help every individual live our motto: we are Calderglen (and that makes us different).

The words on the page don’t mean as much as the narrative, the stories, the school’s leadership team repeatedly curate and share around them.

If you don’t have clear strategy, I hope you’ve got a clear mission. The one we helped develop at the International School of Beijing isn’t short — it’s really long — but every ounce of it is lived, and has been lived throughout the current crisis.

2. Show leadership.

Listen, innovate, decide, act and evaluate. Communicate relentlessly. You’re not filling up people’s inboxes if you’re communicating clearly with and to them.

3. Show a strong centre.

For the duration of a crisis, the executive team (Board and leadership, for example) needs to be together, strong and in agreement on everything. Divide and you lose.

4. Throw everything at the crisis.

Don’t get distracted by the details, not by ‘genius jerks’ vying for your attention and resources. Throw everything you’ve got at whatever will get you out of the crisis.

5. You have to use experts well.

Don’t use experts as political cover. Don’t hire them to blame them when it goes wrong. Don’t assume you always know best — get an outsider’s perspective.

6. Deploy a strong team.

You need your best. That might not be the team with the word ‘leader’ in their job title. Create a crisis team if you’re not convinced your business-as-usual team can cut the mustard.

7. You make the big moments count.

When you have a chance to communicate with people who matter — like the public, or your own community — prepare at least eight times as much as the time you’ve got to deliver. For every hour you’re going to speak to them, prepare for a day. Don’t fluff it — if you confuse people once in a crisis you’ve confused them for the whole crisis.

8. You take the public with you.

Use polls, surveys, spies… whatever it takes, make sure you know what everyone is thinking about your approach in action, as close to real time as you can. If they don’t like it, you might be wrong: then go back to 2 and 5.

9. You show genuine empathy for the public.

“I really understand…” are fatal words when you’re the boss. You don’t understand people who aren’t the boss, so don’t pretend you do. That’s sympathy. Empathy means getting in with them and walking in their shoes. Don’t have private chats with a select few — find your confidence at the bottom of the suitcase where you left it, and get yourself in small recorded Zoom conversations with the people who are hurting the most. It’ll feel nerve-wracking before you do it, but it’s only by really listening to what they have to say that you’ll ever understand it.

10. You give hope but you don’t give false hope.

There isn’t going to be a “new normal” — you can’t guarantee the long term vision of the world, but you can give it your best shot, as long as you have a plan, a team and the capacity to communicate.

Ewan McIntosh is the CEO and founder of global learning agency, NoTosh. The firm develops strategy, and re-articulates the purpose and values of the world’s most innovative, forward-looking, successful schools.



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Ewan McIntosh

Ewan McIntosh

I help people find their place in a team to achieve something bigger than they are.