Radical Move Leadership in a Crisis

“Never allow a crisis to go to waste.”

Rahm Emanuel, former Chief of Staff for

President Barack Obama and former Mayor of Chicago


Do you want to build or sustain your team virtually in these tough times? Be a radical-move leader. This kind of leadership is a magnet for teams, and it allows people to spontaneously and creatively keep their teams intact.

What is a radical-move, don’t-waste-a-crisis leader? First, she’s someone who sees the positive potential in every situation. For example, right now, we are in the middle of the greatest experiment in mass reduction of the use of combustion engines and their negative impact on the planet, that anyone could have constructed. A radical-move leader asks, “How can I get this positive side of the crisis to stick?”

At my firm, Organizational Performance Group (OPG), our minds are already churning and mulling with ideas about how to use video-conferencing as a channel for our cutting-edge facilitation, coaching, and planning techniques. This would cut our emissions production dramatically. We’re watching our clients adjust to online facilitation and we’re seeing our online consultation skills leap-frog day over day.

We’re all also thinking about our drives to work, which are not far by American standards, but they are one person per car driving back and forth 4-5 days a week. How can we cut that emissions-producing behavior even further?

Of course, it’s best to be a radical-move leader all the time. In times of calm, why not think about the tactical and strategic moves you can make that change the underlying paradigms that cause human suffering?

Ed Chastain of Delta Airlines is a radical-move leader. Even before the crisis, he set a goal for Delta to be carbon-neutral within 20 years. “One of the biggest airlines in the world, Delta, has just committed to going carbon neutral. Its pledge — to cancel out all of the greenhouse gas emissions it produces — is one of the most ambitious climate commitments ever made by an airline. ‘We don’t ever want to put customers in a position between having to choose a great travel experience, versus the impact they have on our planet,” Delta CEO Ed Bastian said.’”[1] This is the head of an airline! One of the greatest sources of pollution in the world.[2]

Another radical-move leadership behavior in a crisis is to work on other human problems that are not getting resolved in calmer times, problems that our government and societal structure in the United States seem unable to solve – income inequality and education inequality.

Use this time to bring down absurdly high, dare I say immoral, executive compensation packages. Don’t lay off people at lower levels and leave the high earners intact. This is a chance to level the playing field and reset compensation expectations across the board. One tactic being used now is to make pay cuts across the board. If you want to get more radical, make the pay cuts progressive – larger percentage cuts for those at the top. The CEO of Texas Roadhouse restaurants has foregone his entire salary to keep his frontline workers paid.[3]

Telling staff to “buckle down” and come to work because God said so, as the owner of Hobby Lobby recently did, is the inverse of radical-move leadership.[4] It’s radical-abomination leadership. Or, providing only $25M for relief for workers impacted by the COVID-19 crisis economic fallout, while you’re one of the richest corporations in the world, owned by one of the richest men in the world (yes, Amazon), begs the question of greed. When is enough, enough? Or releasing all the subcontractor dining hall staff at Harvard? A savings of $700K juxtaposed against an endowment of $40 billion. “Based on the local living wage standard, it would cost Harvard $710,000 to provide four weeks of full-time paid leave for all of its subcontracted dining employees. This represents 0.001 percent of Harvard’s endowment.”[5]

Use this time to help model solutions to big underlying human issues of inequality. Take education inequality – is your company providing free cable to lower income families right now for a limited time? Why is it just during a crisis? Don’t waste the crisis; it’s an opportunity to set a new bar for generosity.

It’s a chance to examine all the underlying paradigms and SOPs (standard operating procedures) that are hurting the planet and us as a species. A crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity to stop being a resource hog of money, natural resources, health care, and more.

So how does radical-move leadership build your team in tough times? There is nothing more powerful or motivating for a team than to know their company and their leaders are on the right side of the moral imperative we all have as human beings – to not only be kind to one another (the old standard) – but to enact a new standard – to do BETTER for one another as a whole first, as individuals second. Lead this way and release your staff’s creativity to help create radical positive change; your team will be better than fine.

Publication of this article on Quartz.com is pending.


About the Author: 

Laura Freebairn-Smith is Partner and Cofounder of Organizational Performance Group.  Laura has been a consultant for such distinguished companies as the New York Times and People’s Bank. Her specialty is assisting leaders in realizing the full potential of their organizations through humanistic and analytical practices, while offering guidance in the redesign of infrastructure, the creation of strategic plans, and with organizational development.


[1] https://www.theverge.com/2020/2/14/21137782/delta-carbon-neutral-greenhouse-gas-emissions-climate-change-airlines

[2] https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/global-greenhouse-gas-emissions-data

[3] https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2020/03/26/coronavirus-texas-roadhouse-ceo-forgoes-salary-frontline-workers/2919112001/

[4] https://www.lgbtqnation.com/2020/03/hobby-lobby-ceo-tells-employees-come-work-wife-heard-words-god/

[5] https://freebeacon.com/latest-news/harvard-not-paying-all-workers-during-coronavirus-shutdown-despite-40-9b-endowment/