In my servant leadership paper I talked about The Eight Behaviour Traits of Great Leaders

It is my belief that many leaders fail, when managing enterprises, because some of the eight behaviour traits that needed to be in their DNA were absent.  They may have been successful managing smaller teams because their flaws not fully exposed.

I believe, some of these eight behaviour traits are hard wired in the individual’s DNA and some are trainable, as shown in the table below.

Trait type Traits Nature of trait
People focused traits 1. Integrity and honesty Hard wired
2. “Love thy neighbour as thyself” Hard wired
3. Abundance of positive energy Hard wired
4. Self-awareness and self-regulation Behavioural change programme can radically improve performance
Courage traits 5. Decision making and risk taking Exposure to best practice can improve performance
6. Ability to excel in a crisis Hard wired
Handling change traits 7. Seeing future opportunities Exposure to best practice can improve performance
8. Learning agility


Trait #6: Ability to Excel in a Crisis – Hard Wired

Dr Martin Luther King summed leadership up perfectly, “the ultimate measure of a man (Leader) is not where he (the leader) stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he (the leader) stands in times of challenge and controversy”.

“Leadership is a Foul Weather Job”  and “Great leaders anticipate the storm.” added Peter Drucker

As Tom Peters says about bad times, “I can say with conviction and confidence that this is when it gets fun for talented and imaginative leaders.”[i]

Welch had a large realism streak in his body.  He would take the necessary action, face the necessary music and move on. Jack Welch handled each crisis on the following assumptions:

  1. The crisis will be worse than it first appears
  2. The bad news will come out sometime so may as well face the music now
  3. The situation will be portrayed in the worst possible light by ‘the press’
  4. There will be carnage
  5. The organisation will survive.


The crisis will be worse than it first appears

Oh, how true is this statement.  Were we not looking with some interest as it unfolded in China.  Never thinking in January to get prepared.  The older members of your company should have known better.  SARS was in their memory.  We must never forget that COVID 20 is a decade or two away.   So, for next time we will build up a fitting fund.  We will not distribute super profits we will retain these for a rainy day so we can keep the team together.  Least we forget.

The bad news will come out sometime so may as well face the music now

This is aimed at an internal event that we might not want to disclose.

The situation will be portrayed in the worst possible light by ‘the press’

You have to remember that the Press thrive on bad news it is their beverage of choice. It will be months before they change their track.  It is  important to listen more to  thinkers, your mentors and spend less time hearing the negatively.  Now ,as never before, is the time to surround yourself with positive people.

There will be carnage

COVID will create some  bloodshed in your business.  The key is to minimise it.  I met a entrepreneur who a few months ago, in a different life was talking about giving his company to his employees.  If that was the case then we should put all the company’s assets behind keeping the core employees intact.  Running into losses this year is not a problem.  Dipping into the fat from previous years is a must.  Another friend of mine, sold his boat and caravan to pay the wages of his key staff person.  They are close friends.  The respect he gets from taking his action is paid back every year he is alive.

The organisation will survive

The greatest message to remember.  make a poster and put it on every wall in the business.  make this point larger.  make sure that you build more institutional memory so you are more away that after every rise comes  a wall.  It has been like this since time began.


The Old Dogs for the Hard Road, Every Time

Shackleton valued the older men on the expedition; he referred to them as the “old dogs”.  On all his perilous journeys, where life and death were in the balance, he always had the old dogs in the advance party.  He made an interesting observation one day. The older team members ate less, complained less, slept less and were injured less!

In today’s business world, where recruitment is often run by young human resources officers and equally young managers, the old dogs find it hard to change jobs when they are over 50.  This is stupid.

Much of one’s best work is done beyond the age of 50 (well, this is what I choose to believe, with of course a vested interest!).  One is wiser, has seen it all before, knows where to conserve energy and realises when to put the hard yards in.

There can be no greater crisis than the predicament facing Florence Nightingale and her 38 supporters. She was challenged with institutional carnage where the low ranked soldiers were left to die in blood stained uniforms. With no provisions supplied, she took hold of the situation and relentlessly moved forward to organise treatment, resulting in many lives being saved. An entourage of those survivors marched behind her coffin.

Be Flexible in Tactics

Shackleton was always thinking ahead.  However, some decisions would have to be reversed daily as conditions changed. The change in circumstances constantly meant a change in what could be carried on the next leg of the return journey.

When they knew it was time to leave the breaking ice-floe, he had to assess what was the safest option, bearing in mind the various attributes of three potential destinations. The condition of the men and of the sea, and the fact that one lifeboat was only marginally seaworthy, had to be weighed.  In a sequence over the course of just three days, the destination for their escape kept changing: Clarence Island or Elephant Island; King George Island; Hope Bay (on the Antarctic mainland) and, finally, Elephant Island where they landed safely.

The vagaries of business and those of an expedition are the same.  You will never be able to accurately predict the future.  We need to provision for worst-case scenarios and carefully assess what are the best options to take in the given circumstances.

Maintaining a Sense of Humour in the Face of Adversity

Shackleton’s sense of humour was always to the fore. He was in fact the life and soul of the group. He was constantly looking for ways to maintain morale. Sir Edmund Hillary was known for his sense of humour and always looked for it in others when recruiting team members.

As Tom Peters says about bad times, “I can say with conviction and confidence that this is when it gets fun for talented and imaginative leaders.”[i]


[i] Tom Peters, “Thriving on Chaos: Bold Leaders Gain Advantage,” Leadership Excellence, February 2010.

To read more visit Winning Leadership (a serving Leader) – Toolkit (90 page whitepaper + e-templates)