Are you an effective leader in times of crisis?


On the outside, many will look at what is happening to the mining industry at the moment as a simple "business process rationalisation" phase and/or a "cost-out" phase.

On the outside, many will look at what is happening to the mining industry at the moment as a simple “business process rationalisation” phase and/or a “cost-out” phase.

While these phrases may neatly explain the simple mechanics of what is being done, they do not adequately convey that many mining companies and services companies linked to the mining industry, would be currently experiencing a severe crisis.

We know this because of the many many people we talk to daily, who describe their world as exactly that. We also have our own direct experience.

It is very important that as a leader; be you a supervisor, senior technical person, department manager, general manager, CEO or board member, you keep top of your mind, that as well as managing process, you are also responsible for managing the feelings and fears of a lot of people.

Do this well and you will enhance your reputation and your business will emerge stronger.

Do it poorly and you will damage both permanently.

This was summed up fantastically for me in a book entitled “Shackleton’s Way – Leadership Lessons From the Great Antarctic Explorer”. The book was written by Margot Morrell and Stephanie Capparell (preface by Alexandra Shackleton).   

Shackleton’s Way of Getting the Group through a Crisis

  • When crisis strikes, immediately address your staff. Take charge of the situation, offer a plan of action, ask for support, and show absolute confidence in a positive outcome.
  • Get rid of unnecessary middle layers of authority. Direct leadership is more efficient in emergency situations.
  • Plan several options in detail. Get a grasp of the possible consequences of each, always keeping your eye on the big picture.
  • Streamline supplies and operations so they won’t slow you down.
  • Give your staff an occasional reality check to keep them on course. After time, people with start to treat a crisis situation as business as usual and lose their focus.
  • Keep your malcontents close to you. Resist your instinct to avoid them and instead try to win them over and gain their support.
  • Defuse tension. In high-stress situations use humour to put people at ease, and keep your staff busy.
  • Let go of the past. Don’t waste time or energy regretting past mistakes or fretting over what you can’t change.
  • Ask for advice and information from a variety of sources, but ultimately make decisions based on your own best judgement.
  • Let all the people involved in the crisis participate in the solution, even if that means doling out some work that is less than vital.
  • Be patient. Sometimes the best course of action is to do nothing but watch and wait.
  • Give your staff plenty of time to get used to the idea of an unpopular decision.

You might want to think about a recent difficult period that you needed to work through and where you held a leadership position. Consider how you handled it. Ask yourself how many of the 12 points above did you do well and how many not so.

In Shackelton’s words there is no point looking backwards and regretting your mistakes. What you can do though is next time you find yourself needing to manage through a crisis, be better prepared to handle it better.

Lastly of course, being ready to do all of these things as described by Shackleton requires you to have recognised that you are in fact in period of crisis.  

Times such as these cause some people to retreat into their own "safe cave" but others will relish the challenge and flourish. 

Whatever is your natural reaction, as a leader the worst thing you can do is to stick your head in the sand and hope. 

Don’t be mowing the lawn while the house is burning.

You must admit the issues exist and act now.

Best wishes.

Steve Heather

Managing Director and Principal for executive Search

Mining People International