Leadership in Times of Crisis

Leadership in Times of Crisis

Keith Grint, AIPM Global Professor

AIPM Global Professor Keith Grint pictured here at an AIPM workshop in 2018.

Leadership in Times of Crisis

"Henrik Ibsen's An Enemy of the People was written in 1882, after his previous play Ghosts had received poor reviews for its attack upon the hypocrisy of public morality. Ibsen wanted to respond by illustrating the way that telling the truth was both necessary, and often unpopular, and that direct democracy had its limitations.

Few people like to hear bad news, especially from their leaders in bad times, when we all seek solace and comfort. But telling people good news is easy, even (or especially) if it isn't true; while telling people things they need to hear that they would rather not, is much more difficult, and therefore a more important test of leadership. In An Enemy of the People, the bad news is that the new public baths have been poisoned by the local tannery, just as the tourist season is starting, (this, of course, is the frame for the 1975 Spielberg movie "Jaws"). In the play, the hero, Dr. Stockmann, fails to persuade his brother, the mayor, to close the baths and is then shouted down at a town meeting for trying to persuade the people that they have an unpopular but necessary duty to perform; they call him "the enemy of the people." This is the opposite of telling people lies that keep followers happy.

In our own times, the equivalent problem is telling people that they have to quarantine themselves, stop going to work or clubs and bars, and stay at home to protect themselves, their neighbours, and their health system. But some people rail against such draconian curbs on their "freedom," and some leaders pretend that the problem is exaggerated, and everything can carry on as normal, especially if the necessary restrictions affect their own popularity.

But here's the thing: leadership isn't about popularity. It's about doing what is right, even if that means sacrificing your own popularity and career. And confidence is not the equivalent of competence. There are times for optimism and times for realism and sometimes the quest for popularity undermines the importance of being realistic rather than over-optimistic."

Read the full article here

Keith Grint, International Leadership Association, 2020