What to Read Next
Over the past 30 years, we have studied and consulted for nearly 100 CEOs in Europe, Asia, and North America who had to deal with large-scale crises. Based on these CEOs’ responses to various emergencies, we have identified three ways leaders tend to think during emergencies.
Functional smart leaders rely on their survival instincts. Focused on the bottom line, they do whatever it takes to keep their companies afloat. Business smart leaders are opportunistic. They find clever ways to leverage a crisis and develop strategies to capture post-disaster opportunities. We estimate that 90% of corporate leaders we observed went into one of those two modes during past crises.
Research Updates From MIT SMR
Get weekly updates on how global companies are managing in a changing world.
Please enter a valid email address
Thank you for signing up
A smaller number — just 10% — navigated crises by relying instead on context-aware intelligence to benefit society at large. Rather than simply reacting to — or leveraging — an emergency, these leaders consciously used intuition, logic, and their emotions to choose appropriate responses. Instead of asking anxious workers to simply keep doing their jobs, they helped broaden their perspectives. They inspired employees to use ingenuity to contribute to the greater good of society and to cocreate a higher purpose for the organization.
We call these people wise leaders, and we think they present the best role model for leaders to successfully deal with today’s crises. Endowed with an entrepreneurial mind, a social heart, and an ecological soul, wise leaders are best fit to build the agile, inclusive, and sustainable businesses of the 21st century.
Four Key Capabilities of Wise Leaders
We believe that as businesses grapple with the COVID-19 crisis, CEOs have a historic opportunity to demonstrate wise leadership and positively reshape the mindsets of their employees to serve the larger good.
CEOs can transform their businesses into wise enterprises by leveraging four key capabilities: making a broader purpose an explicit part of company vision, embracing frugal innovation that cleverly reuses existing company resources, framing sustainability and corporate responsibility as mission-crucial adaptability, and channeling radical openness to build strong feelings of connection.
Broaden employees’ perspective and purpose. COVID-19 makes all of us realize how interdependent and fragile human civilization is. A disruption in one part of the world can have devastating ripple effects across the entire planet.