Dealing with leadership crisis

Dealing with leadership crisis

Leaders are the torch bearers and the glue that bind the company. Renuka Vembu finds out the reasons behind a leadership crisis in an organisation and the best process of dealing with it

Leaders are the torch bearers and the glue that bind the company. Renuka Vembu finds out the reasons behind a leadership crisis in an organisation and the best process of dealing with it Nurturing and having a pipeline of effective leaders in any organisation is of prime importance. While the top management is responsible for charting the vision of the company and preparing action plans for its people to adhere to, it is the middle level that bridges the gap and acts as the communication channel between the top hierarchy and the junior level employees. So it is of utmost importance that a company does not ever fall into the leadership crisis trap. But if and when such a situation occurs, the company should have a contingency plan in place to tackle it effectively.

Dr Kashmira Pagdiwalla, Director (HR Operations), Intas Biopharmaceuticals Limited (IBPL), dispenses some common myths in this highly competitive environment:

  • Leadership is a rare skill—No. There are several leadership roles and this skill can be developed.

  • Leaders are born not made—No. The major capacities and competencies of leadership can all be learned if the basic desire to learn them exists.

  • Leaders are charismatic—Not necessarily. Some are.

  • Leadership exists only at the top of an organisation—No. The larger the organisation, the more leadership roles it is likely to offer.

  • The leader controls, directs, prods and manipulates others—No. Leadership is not so much the exercise of power as the empowerment of others.

Prime factors

“In the absence of a top leader, the organisation can have a serious disadvantage in terms of growth, discipline, financial and human resource management”

– Kashmira Pagdiwalla Director (HR Operations)


Skill gap, rapidly advancing technology, changing dynamics of the corporate world, stringent competition leading to better and myriad opportunities, are some of the factors that can plague a company of potential leaders. For every job role, there is a pre-defined skill set and knowledge base that is expected from people occupying the said position. Just like the roles and responsibilities for the top and middle level managers are different, so would be the job functions and the requisite attributes. While the top management needs to link the business interests with organisational vision, the middle level needs to align individual interests with the broader organisational goals. The former role demands a strategic approach while the latter is more concerned with day-to-day operations.

Max D’Souza, Head HR (South Asia), ORG IMS Research, lists some of the factors that can lead to leadership crisis within an organisation, “Lack of clarity of the vision, and understanding the mission and long term objectives of organisation is one of the reasons. Another is if a leader is unable to manage the performing teams with proper delegation of the authority or lack of trust and transparency within the teams and lack of motivation given to the teams by there respective leaders.” He adds, “A crisis can also occur when application of situational based behaviour is not executed, due to over-sighting employee feedback and non-implementation, rude and insensitive behaviour towards the team or lack of re-skilling the team with proper focus and developmental programmes.”

Requisite attributes

A decision maker, a path breaker, a visionary, an out-of-the-box thinker, a team player, etc. are some of the phrases associated with a good leader. While some qualities are in-built, some attributes can be polished by providing apt trainings. Building a team on trust and loyalty, valuing ethics and integrity, nurturing employees—their lives and careers, with a focus on overall development, furnishing them with meaningful opportunities and a long-term path catering to their ambitions and area of interests is the virtue of a middle-layer manager.

Leaders are important to pave way for people to follow the course of action and also to take them through it. The middle level is the bridge between the top hierarchy and the people who are at the bottom of the ladder. They bridge the gap, carry the communication channel and keep the flow of information alive. They are imperative because they are viewed as the potential top leaders of tomorrow.

Two sides of a coin

While the absence of the mid-layer can have a reasonable impact on the organisation and its employees, there is also a different view provided on this front. Just like all aspects have their pros and cons, so do the absence of mid-level managers as well. Pagdiwalla says, “In the initial stages of an organisation’s growth, a top management leader, who is a visionary, is an advantage. In the absence of one, the organisation can have a serious disadvantage in terms of growth, discipline, financial and human resource management. At this stage, absence of top management leaders can make an organisation directionless, the organisation will remain mediocre, and there will be lack of a common culture. However, after some time, a board can well run a company.”

Handling leadership

Handling leaders of the company and constantly brushing up their skill-sets according to the industry needs and demands is an indispensable factor and a continuous process. Providing trainings varying from leadership development and personality development to risk-taking approaches are leading the pack.

Suresh Patil, Vice President, Human Resources, Calyx Chemicals and Pharmaceuticals asserts on the significance and impact of training programmes, “Such programmes instil high degree of personal credibility, humility, integrity, stamina, coping with stress, problem-solving and decision making ability and good interpersonal skills. They have a clear vision and ability to lead a team and foster renewed loyalty and commitment, creating higher-performing teams.” He continues, “They also increase motivational levels and willingness to work hard, develop competencies through on-the-job experiences, such as managing two different divisions, a foreign country assignment, involvement in a major research and development effort and leadership of a reorganisation task force. More training programmes designed to develop specific skills for targeted competencies should be provided.”

Assessing individual strength and weakness, leveraging it to the optimum by exploiting the potential that lies within every leader, cross-functional training and job rotation, measuring the effectiveness of such programmes which gives an insight into the possible flaws and the necessary amendments that need to be made to make the undertaking a success, are all the steps that will take leaders to the next ladder.

Proactive measures

Just like there is a need for a contingency plan in place in the wake of unforeseen circumstances, the company needs to take proactive steps as well so that these emergencies or situations are avoided.

Patil says, “There needs to be an analysis on why the change in leadership is going to create a crisis and appropriate ways to handle it. If the replacement is planned in advance, the transition process is quite different than if it is unplanned.” He says that there is every possibility of internal candidates aspiring to take on the position. This transition will probably be quiet, easy and orderly if succession plans are in place if the new senior executive is integrated into the leadership team. “When the process of replacing a senior executive is completed, it needs to be communicated to all concerned. It is important to avoid a power vacuum and rumours by timely actions. In addition, identify key personnel that the company would not want to lose during this period,” he says. Also a plan should be designed for guaranteeing that the team stays together and take measures that communicate a sense of normalcy. “During the transition period, the company should generate both confidence and calm, transfer of knowledge and documents while making people feel that the organisation is on a solid footing and that they are in full control. Also, companies need to establish a succession plan, put it in place in advance and execute it over specified periods of time,” says Patil.

In the competitive market space, leaders hold the prime slot. It is necessary for companies to focus on developing leaders within the organisation, as also bringing in a wave of fresh creative minds from outside to attain the right balance. Having a leadership plan will give a view of the touch-points that will help avert crisis as also dealing with it when it occurs.