In Drucker’s book on non-profit organizations (a book not read by many corporate types), he presents an incredibly cogent argument on why leaders must be prepared to deal proactively with impending disasters. “Leadership is a foul-weathered job,” asserted Drucker in 1990.
When we discussed this topic during our day together, Drucker brought up the topic of hospitals to provide some context. He made me think about hospitals in a different way : “Hospitals love crises.” He explained that hospitals don’t like people who aren’t seriously ill, but they do great in a crisis. He gave me the perfect example: “if an old woman goes into cardiac arrest at three in the morning the floor nurse gets a team to work on her within minutes. However, other than dealing with life-threatening emergencies, hospitals are “totally disorganized.” Anyone who has been kept waiting for hours in a hospital emergency room with a non-life-threatening-injury knows that Drucker is right. “Hospitals are organized for crises, but 80 percent of the patients are not crises—the 80 percent they do very poorly.”
And of course, crises are not restricted to hospitals. “The most important task of an organization’s leader is to anticipate crisis. Perhaps not to avert it, but to anticipate it. To wait until crisis is already abdication,” said Drucker. Ironically, one of the other causes of crisis is success. “Problems of success have ruined more organizations than has failure, partly because if things go wrong, everybody knows they have to go to work,” asserted Drucker. “Success creates its own euphoria. You outrun your resources,” he added.
For a company to be sucessful—and stay successful—the senior management team must be able to stay one step ahead of an impending storm. That is called “innovation, constant renewal,” says Drucker.
“You cannot prevent a major catastrophe,” he declared, “but you can build an organization that is battle-ready, that has high-morale, and has also been through a crisis, knows how to behave, trusts itself, and where people trust one another. In military training, the first rule is to instill soldiers with trust in their officers, because without trust they won’t fight.”
Come back next week for more discussion of dealing with crises, especially in these tough times!