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Only half of managers can cope with crises at work

High profile leaders reveal lessons in bouncing back

Unsupportive working cultures are leaving managers to struggle with the fall-out of workplace crises, according to new research. Most managers (94%) have faced crises during their career, but only half (55%) have handled them professionally, according to Bouncing Back: Leadership lessons in resilience, a report issued today by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI).

The report includes the reflections of professionals who have suffered high-profile challenges: Lord Browne of Madingley, Rachel Lowe, Stephen Robertson, Ivan Massow, Charlotte Proudman and Nick Leeson.

The absence of professional management ranked as a major factor in the cause of crises in a survey of 1,100 managers. 78% blamed a lack of support from senior management and 68% of managers cited culture failure as responsible. 

The most common workplace crises are significant conflict with a colleague (54%), unfair treatment (49%), closely followed by project failure (36%). Managers struggled to deal with these crises, eight in ten (81%) managers said their confidence suffered as a result and almost two-thirds (63%) said their capacity to do their job suffered. This was worse on a personal level, only 36% believed they dealt with the emotional impact well and 82% of managers described this emotional impact as severe of very severe.

Ann Francke, CEO of CMI commented:

“Surviving – and, in time, bouncing back – starts with destigmatising adversity and making it easier to learn lessons. We need to have more open and inclusive cultures that tolerate risk and learn from challenges. On a personal level it means learning to accept, to look forward, and to become more self-aware as a leader. We can learn as much – if not more – from defeat as from victory. Managers need to build resilience so they and those they lead, can achieve more, survive better and bounce back stronger.”

Lord Browne of Madingley who lost his position at BP due to misrepresenting his personal circumstances said: “The future is the only thing that matters, the past is not important. It is what it is and we move forward. Those at the top of an organisation should set the right tone, that inclusion is the single most important feature of leadership.”

Amongst managers that had dealt with a crisis, three quarters (77%) take a more active approach to risk management. This includes encouraging colleagues to discuss learnings more openly (81%), and communicate more effectively (83%).  Most managers who have overcome adversity (84%) said that, as a manager, they are more prepared to handle a similar crisis in the future, and 85% say they now actively work to create and maintain a good workplace culture.

Rachel Lowe, whose original business went bankrupt, highlights the importance of resilience:

“When everything went wrong the effects were devastating. I lost absolutely everything. It wasn’t just a case of losing the business; it was very much a case of losing my mental state of mind. It takes courage to come back. You have to remember the successes, the positives, and keep going.”

CMI’s recommendations for improving managerial resilience include:

  • Make it OK to fail. Failure as a step on the way to success should be the new normal. Over half of managers (52%) say the one thing that would have helped them at a moment of crisis was more support from their managers.
  • Develop risk tolerance – Don’t manage risk by avoiding it. Build up risk tolerance through creating a culture geared towards accountability. Managers exposed to crises become better at managing them. 61% take a more proactive attitude in the future.
  • Encourage managers to accept, re-evaluate and face forward – Help managers to gain a sense of perspective by stepping outside the situation. Six in ten (57%) managers said a crisis gave them a fresh sense of perspective. Employers though should note that 38% subsequently changed jobs.
  • Foster a balanced mind-set and humility – Ensure a dose of realism and measured reactions by regularly reviewing best and worst case outcomes. Over half (54%) of managers become more empathetic and self-critical after a crisis, highlighting humility and collaboration as key lessons.
  • Offer mentors – Recognise the power of learning from mistakes. Just 41% of managers currently have access to a mentor. Two thirds of those that do, say they were important in handling a crisis.
  • Build support networks – Strong personal networks can soften the blow of a crisis. Four fifths (83%) of managers agreed personal networks were helpful in dealing with adversity.

Download the report: www.managers.org.uk/bouncingback.