Leaders Perception Magazine is currently running an interview series called – Leadership in Times of Crisis
Today, we had the opportunity to interview Deidre Alves, CEO at ExuLab
In the realm of leadership, the journey to unlock human potential and guide organizations through crises takes a visionary and fearless leader. Deidre Alves M.Ed., the Chief Leadership Officer at ExuLAB, has dedicated her career to cultivating courageous leaders who ignite positive change. With a background spanning both public and private sectors, Deidre’s insights into executive leadership development and crisis management are a wellspring of wisdom. Join us as we delve into her remarkable journey, uncover her strategies for nurturing strong leaders, and learn how she triumphed through a crisis of organizational purpose.
Interviewee Name: Deidre Alves
Deidre Alves’s favourite quote: “Adversity introduces a man to himself”- Prifti
Thank you so much for joining us today! Tell us a little bit about yourself. What is your backstory?
Deidre Alves: Human performance is extremely intriguing to me because when you get it right and unleash the potential in people, especially executive leaders, the impossible literally becomes possible. I’ve seen it! As an executive leader myself leading organizational learning and executive leadership development in various industries, we have personally triumphed as a direct result of the many executive leadership development opportunities I have been graciously afforded. I can honestly say that without the impeccable leadership training I received, I would not be the leader I am today. I have had the greatest gifts of exemplary mentors and coaches who selflessly gave of their time and extraordinary talent to develop me and my own leader strength- I am forever grateful. The beautiful imprint they have on my life continues to be a source of strength and courage to me as I lead organizations through challenge and tumult or develop and coach their senior executive leaders. Executive leaders need all the support and development that they can get- they have enormous responsibility- and power in this world. Developing courageous leaders who will not faint or freeze in crisis is imperative. This is what I strive to accomplish- even when it seems impossible. Strong leaders inspire strong teams and organizations to success and prosperity – and this ripples out leader by leader organization by organization to build a brighter world. As an executive leader, I have personally seen the best and worst of what leadership can be and do in this world and I endeavor to help develop leaders become catalysts for good, peace and happiness in our world. Is that too lofty a goal? Is that too impossible a dream? It is if we don’t even try. So I say, no, it is not too ‘too’- let’s make the impossible possible- and it starts first with ambitious excellent executive leadership development.
Could you please share a specific crisis situation you’ve faced as a leader and walk us through the strategies you employed to navigate through it successfully? What were the key decisions and actions you took, and what were the outcomes or lessons learned from that experience?
Deidre Alves: What I am going share with you is not an economic crisis, or economic downturn, natural disaster, or global pandemic. What I am going to share with you is a crisis of organizational purpose. Leading through this type of crisis is especially challenging because it is somewhat existential. It is a crisis of the very character of the corporation or organization. And what I learned is that if not strategically addressed and thwarted by strong leadership when the first cracks start to appear, the catastrophic fallout is swift and irreparable. Leaders are responsible for the protection of their organizational purpose. Left to feckless or weak leadership, your purpose is in irresponsible hands and just like sand through your fingers- the organization will disintegrate for it is the purpose that truly is what holds your organization together.
During this tumultuous time, as a senior executive in the corporation, I could see these cracks starting to appear- discussions and decisions began not to align with the corporate purpose or values. At first very subtle and often under the radar that quickly became very palpable- and one by one, the partners froze and, out of fear, let it just happen. They lost control of their organization and the purpose that had made it so wildly successful. As the crisis unfolded, the programs, products, services and projects still had to go on. During this time, I admit, I was even fearful- the atmosphere of the organization changed- you could feel it. It was eery. I had the charge of leading one of our most critical global projects that was irrevocably tied and illuminated by our purpose. It was a high stakes win across the board with our constituents and we had to continue to deliver on its promise. Our constituents, unaware of the crisis ensuing, were expecting us to deliver- and to deliver big! This high stakes program required a strong motivated, enthusiastic team inspired by our corporate purpose to pull it off- and in the midst of poor morale ensuing across the company- this was looking like a dire impossibility. As a leader I had to call on one of the most important leader competencies that I teach execs to this day: OPTIMISM. I made the unrelenting decision to believe that we, as a team, would win and deliver for our constituents. I held this clear vision and painted this clear picture of victory for my team. They could feel my optimism and it drove them. I was confident in it and knew that this program would become the beacon of hope to the entire organization. This program was the legacy of our purpose and it was through this program that the purpose would forever live- despite and long after the crisis. This inspired the team and boosted morale. I quickly spent time prioritizing team morale and building trust within our team. Team morale and trust building were the cornerstones of the success of the project. As a leader, it was challenging to inspire courage and excellence amid the storm brewing around me. I stood firm in my belief and that we would win against all adversity. I continuously referred to our board approved strategic plan that proved the project as a key deliverable. Continuous reference to the strategic plan gave us a non-negotiable point of reference that was irrefutable and able to be executed against- it was our firm footing in the storm so to speak. I added to the team those that had proven their commitment to the project and took courageous action (and heat) removing others who were not aligned. This action was critical because even one unenthusiastic player can sadly sabotage your effort. I concentrated all efforts and syphoned resources to just this key project and made this project the key focus of our vertical. I let the purpose and the legacy of the project light the way. I continuously worked to nurture team morale and gave reassurance as needed to each and every team member that asked and encouraged honesty and true sharing of feelings every step of the way. I kept meetings super tight and focused on our goal, chunking steps down into manageable asks- and held meetings with only the key members that needed to be there. I established a direct hotline of communication to me available at all times during the duration of the lift. A stalwart steady focus was vital. And I had to muster my own courage every day- silencing the noise, the fear and amplifying the strategy and pivots needed to get to our goal. One of the lessons of leadership I learned was that a leader is really a leader in times of adversity- not when things are going great- and in that moment of crisis you as leader have the choice to freeze or fly- and I chose to fly- in times of crisis it is this moment of choice where leaders are really made. The choice is made deep inside and forever changes the trajectory of the organization— and the leader.
From your observations, what common mistakes or pitfalls have you seen leaders fall into during a crisis?
Deidre Alves: The worst mistake a leader can make in crisis is to freeze or even worse surrender or capitulate. I have seen high level executive leaders cower and capitulate, fail to stand firm and fall prey to toxic group think and toxic group do. And some have admitted to doing this out of their own weakness, or shockingly having been threatened with extortion or a ruining and doxing of their person and careers. Hardly anyone will reveal this- but it is shockingly true and so wrong. And it nefariously and unfortunately works. That is why I say leaders must guard against the first cracks of this ever happening- because it can be stopped- in the beginning. If even one leader stands strong, others will follow. Knowing this catastrophic unfortunate possibility can happen and doing something to thwart it before your organization is devoured from the inside out is your competitive edge- it will save you, your leadership, your purpose and ultimately your organization.
Leaders Perception would like to thank Deidre Alves and ExuLab for the time dedicated to completing this interview and sharing their valuable insights with our readers!
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