Distinguish Crisis from Disaster: 5 Notes for Making Decisions – The European Business Review

Written by Axelle Bagot and Houman Harouni

One of the most common forms of leadership failure is treating a crisis like it is a disaster, and treating a disaster like it is a crisis. The Greek root of the word crisis means “to decide.” It is a word ancient physicians used to describe the moment when an ill body made the decision to recover or fail. A disaster, on the other hand, means literally “an ill star,” a harmful event beyond our control — a bad year for crops, or a global pandemic, for instance. Crisis, then, is a moment that demands exceptional decisions from us, vital ones about who we are and which directions we must take. A disaster is precisely the end of decisions. The two, in fact, can occur at the very same time. The difference is in our degree of freedom: the line between those things over which we have no control, and those which remain within our decisive powers.

We treat a crisis as a disaster when we abandon our work, withdraw from the zone of impact, or, worse, when we look for others to blame as the cause of the misfortune. We do not take time to understand our freedom of movement. By contrast, treating a disaster like a crisis occurs when we withdraw care and hold people responsible for things they cannot impact. An organization that, faced with the COVID 19 pandemic, stops its work without due reflection and lays off its workers without due consideration has committed both mistakes at the same time.

In a time of rapid and unwanted change, how do can an organization distinguish where its stands and what needs to be done? Based on research and work, we divide the process into five interrelated steps.

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By Jessica Yap-Chung
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