Only weeks after being named the new head of General Motors (IW 500/5), Mary Barra was faced with what likely will be a career-defining problem. The No. 1 automaker issued recalls for 2.6 million vehicles because of a faulty ignition switch.
As Barra, CEO, became the face of GM, she also became the person held accountable for the problems with the vehicles, problems from years before and linked to as many as 13 deaths.
While few leaders will be caught in such a high-profile case as Barra, any crisis requires a strategy.
David Wilmer, a business advisor and the author of "INSIGHT: Business Advice in an Age of Complexity," offers business leaders a few tips on crisis management.
"Crises are hard enough in any business, but there are a number of ways to turn a crisis into a catastrophe with very little effort," Wilmer says.
1. Be Overly Optimistic.
"Difficult problems, especially systemic ones that have been around for some time, do not correct themselves overnight just because we identify a solution. We actually need to take action!" Wilmer says. "Having a balanced view of reality, spiced with optimism, is paramount to keeping everyone grounded in the here and now."
2. Deny the Problem Exists.
"Some leaders think that if they keep quiet about a problem, others will not know it exists. The truth is that your employees are at least as aware of the problem as you are. Denial only increases fear and lowers respect for you," Wilmer says.
3. Dabble in Trial and Error.
Wilmer instead recommends leaders instead use careful consideration, look for viable options and seek out astute outside advice.
4. Abandon Common Sense.
"Trusting instincts alone to survive a potential business death spiral may cause you to fight back or flee. Rarely are either of those responses necessary or beneficial for overcoming the crisis, and overreaction only makes things worse," Wilmer says.
5. Go It Alone.
"We all have natural blind spots and may easily lose vital perspective on the situation and miss options for resolution," Wilmer says.
6. Relying Solely On Logic.
Leaders need to show they're connected to ensure employees have an emotional investment in the company, Wilmer says.
7. Blame Others.
"Blaming always makes a leader look weak. Blaming others, especially employees, sends a clear message that leadership is not in control of the situation," Wilmer says.
8. Crack the Whip
Wilmer warns leaders not to ask their employees to endure any hardships -- such as pay cuts or mandatory overtime – that the leaders do not first endure.