Fight or flight. The typical reactions during a time of crisis.
In a personal survival context, we all understand the meaning of this phrase.
During dangerous times, certain species of chameleons change their colors to blend into their environment and avoid danger. They can then proceed to stay put, flee, or move towards the danger to confront it.
This type of ability allows the reptile to choose its course of action. As many types of chameleons choose to avoid adverse situations or activity, they will generally choose to flee to safety under the guise of their new colors.
Unfortunately, some leaders show their true colors during perilous times. This is shown by how they manifest what their true core values are in their “fight or flight” response.
In a leadership capacity, the term “fight or flight” can show how committed a leader or group of leaders are when it comes to truly holding to the core values of the organization.
In a flight capacity, leaders will protect themselves, their shares, and their positions at all costs, regardless of what they’ve advocated to uphold, whether by oath, by creation of culture, or by signing the contract for their role.
These leaders will abandon much if not all of what they promoted in good times – that is if they truly held to those values in the first place. Customer service evaporates. Staff training and communication erodes. Those on the front line are sacrificed for the sake of protecting those at the top.
This follows the theme of Simon Sinek’s TED Talk and reinforces how others may not be safe with the wrong kind of leadership.
Crisis flight leadership also steers one to not sacrifice as others in the organization would.
And most often these fly in the face of the core values the leader(s) of the organization are supposed to stand for. In actuality, it shows what the leaders truly valued all along.
Conversely, a fight leadership approach in times of crisis shows the leaders' core values in the face of uncertain times. Their resolve to stay true to what was established for the organization and those it serves is what truly matters.
It may be most difficult to communicate when business has halted, cuts need to be made, and financial adjustments have to be applied to the company. But a great leadership team that truly is aligned with the organization's core values will stick to them no matter what.
A leader who truly believes in “Do the Right Thing” as a core value will do right by his or her people. When “Customers Come First,” there is a laser focus on supporting customers who are also struggling and working harder to serve them through the crisis. Any values of “Teamwork” should be backed up with sacrifice across all levels of the organization to create a common front to do what it takes.
And once the crisis is over, which group of leaders and which organization will be stronger to emerge and grow? Not the one with the best cash position, but the one whose staff and customers and other stakeholders saw the core values come to life in a much more critical and impactful way than ever before. When post-crisis mode starts to take root, the confidence promoted by living the core values will formulate a solid basis for rebuilding staff engagement, consumer trust, and an enhanced culture for all involved going forward.
It’s easy to abandon what you say you stand for and take flight. It’s harder to fight for what you truly believe to be right.
And whichever route you take, you expose your true core values as well as your leadership competency.
Fight for the core values and those they are meant to serve. Core values and their impact will last far longer than one’s resume and portfolio.
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Paul LaRue is the creator of The UPwards Leader and Instigator for Lead Change Group. His background in senior leadership, strategic planning, culture change, and people and organizational development gives him unique insight into the workings of successful organizations. Paul has given speeches and training sessions for many public and private entities and stresses the virtue of a culture that centers around core values and character in leadership.
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