Great Leaders Don’t Learn From Crisis

Do you ever go to work and ask yourself, “How can I perform my very best today?” If you are asking that question, have you ever asked, “What do I need to do to perform to my full potential?” As leaders we not only need to be self-aware but we need to be self-evaluating constantly for individual and organizational performance improvement. The day we stop continuing to learn, to grow, and to develop is the day we start dying an inevitable slow death. Rest assured your competitors will not stop improving if you become comfortable with your status quo.

A key element in performance improvement is evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the organization. Think of yourself as the captain of an old sailing ship. As the captain you would survey your vessel assessing how well your ship is prepared to weather a storm or any other form of catastrophe the ship may encounter. As captain, you know that crisis is inevitable, so you plan to ensure your vessel is prepared as possible to withstand catastrophe. Like our metaphorical ship captain, the best companies don’t just weather storms or crisis, they deliberately plan and plow through them. They thrive in the natural chaos of the business world in which we live. Why is this? Simply put, they are built for it creating a human response capacity to crisis and chaos that produces optimal outcomes no matter the magnitude of the external events. Great leaders do not learn from a crisis. They learn from how they choose to respond to a crisis. Great leaders continue to focus on achievement in the crisis while lesser leaders focus on the crisis itself.

Likewise, the teams of these companies don’t stand around waiting for direction in moments of potential crisis. With a highly developed sense of purpose, they take initiative, problem solve with collective intelligence and effectiveness in a systems based approach to averting crisis and obtain optimal levels of sustained outcomes. More so, in the collective and collaborative approach to performance, they focus on upper brain response for achievement rather than a lower brain response to self-preservation. These highly functional teams have the sense of clarity to operate at all times to the highest levels of emotional intelligence. Sounds like a pretty great organization does it not? Sound like the way you and your leaders and teams function in crisis? It would be if you had an integrated leadership development model, decentralized power structure, and a systematic approach to driving performance to thrive as opposed to simply solving problems and averting crisis to survive.

My colleague and mentor, Dr. Michael Frisina, quotes the former mayor of the city of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, he says, “you never let a good crisis go to waste.” There is a resounding truth and critical flaw in this statement. Frequently today, the only time our large organizations truly learn or care to self-assess is in a moment of climatic catastrophe. Leadership teams are exposed to pain of outcomes predictable to reaction to crisis (surviving) rather than responding for achievement (thriving). Most of us have lived long enough to be in organizations where this is true. While we do achieve a certain level of change from these crises, the problem is that the organization never truly improves. We only improved in preparing for the crisis we just came out of, not truly improving the organization to be resilient against all forms of calamity. This is why we see the same organizations continue to go through one avoidable crisis after another.

Leaders have only mastered how to not repeat the last crisis, but never discovered the root cause, become adaptable, and second-order problem solve to drive achievement. Even worse these leaders never achieve beyond a certain level of attainable performance because they keep moving from managed crisis to managed crisis, instead of behaving in ways to drive maximum performance. To truly transform, the leaders of these organizations have to elevate their behaviour and thinking to what we call upper brain performance capacity – the ability and performance competence of the leader technically, mentally, and emotionally to truly adapt from times of crisis thinking to continual positive achievement thinking. In this attainable human attribute the maxim is this: it never matters what is happening to me but how I choose to respond to what is happening to me that predicts my level of performance.

So how does a leader go about creating such an organization that can take the beating of the daily grind, remain just as competitive, and ascertain repeatable high performance? The answer to this lies in this age-old truth – organizations do not do things, people do. The people of your organization remain the performance leverage to your business performance. You mess with the brains of your people at your own performance peril.


Catherine is passionate about helping organizations build enlightened leadership cultures that thrive in today’s complex, ambiguous, fast-changing and chaotic global environment, CORPORATE HARMONY’s enlightened approach to leadership and organizational development is a programmatic methodology for creating mental, emotional and social strength within organizational culture. CORPORATE HARMONY recognizes that for any organization to be successful, their people need to be healthy, happy, optimistic, engaged and satisfied with their job – a tall order in today’s era of complexity, ambiguity, bureaucracy, and lightning-fast change. The CORPORATE HARMONY MODEL™ is an innovative online technology of tested proprietary content designed to introduce and develop the skill of Positive Presence™, a mental thought model that connects human energy to human behaviour and results in positive, energized and productive workers that together create a culture of collaboration and accountability. CORPORATE HARMONY’S flagship “POSITIVE PRESENCE PROGRAM” provides the necessary information, exercises and techniques for building strong and healthy minds, while at the same time, identifies the uniqueness and importance of workplace behaviour to drive stronger, more positive relationships, and an overall increase in employee and organizational wellness. “PROJECT HEALTHCARE HARMONY” is CORPORATE HARMONY’S online health technology helping health workers create a positive and energized mindset as influential leaders, resulting in better health, increased productivity, fewer errors and a greater focus on putting their patients first who will heal faster in a caring environment of positivity and harmony.

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