Robert Kabushenga on Crisis management

In the 42 days of lockdown, Robert Kabushenga is taking off time to run a daily mentorship program called #40DayMentor hosted on his Twitter spaces. In this episode he talks about crisis management.

Today I want to talk about how I handled crisis. The industry where I worked is one where you could not avoid crisis. Every one at one point has to go through a crisis. You will need to know how to manage a personal or community crisis. It is a subject worth discussing that people could learn from. That’s why I thought as a topic, it’s something I could share from my own experience so that may be in future if you will need any tips in handling this, you will know what to do. The thing I need to start with and the question on everyone’s mind is:

What is a crisis?

Not every situation is a crisis. Some people can be quite neurotic and think that every difficult situation is a crisis. Some people manufacture crises. They want to create a huge problem because they will gain from it.

Many years ago when I was much younger, there was phrase kuliira mukavuyo (eating from chaos). There are some people who create chaos so they can benefit from it. Those things should be distinguished.

A real crisis is what we need to understand. A crisis is a time of great change. A turning point in the scheme of things because after that event, things will never be the same. Something changes ad it changes forever. It tends to be a time of great difficulty to you as an individual or a community/ company which also creates incredible challenges for the people who have to face it.

Most times, this situation is a threat either to harm you or interprets the flow of things or your reputation. At times all the three occur. It disrupts the normal pattern of life as we know it. And if you are looking for a situation of that nature, look no further that COVID 19. It also means that when that situation presents itself, the normal methods that you use to solve problems do not work. That is why today we are talking about the new normal. Because the way we are used to doing things has had to change.

Whether you look at your personal circumstances for instance people who are in a relationship. That relationship may end in a crisis and at that point the way you normally solve your problems isn’t working and it requires a different approach. That is what I am inviting you to deal with today.

What is most important to me as Robert, I will talk about my situation with crises. I have learnt two important lessons in crisis management from presidents. The first is our own president and the second is from Bill Clinton, former president of the USA. And I will start with that one.

His team always argued: You never waste a crisis. A crisis creates a fantastic opportunity about the future. And if you focus too much on resolving the current crisis you might actually miss the future opportunity. As an individual every time I see a crisis, my adrenaline goes up and the first thing I want to do is go in there. Is there an opportunity for me to demonstrate my leadership skills? Is there something I can do about this situation so that it does not get out of hand? Am I useful? What role can I play without interfering with the other people who are solving the problem? That is why when I see a crisis I immediately go into it. Why? Even if I am not participating in solving the problem, I follow to find out how it is unfolding. I do that then because it is a learning opportunity for me to see how this leader is dealing with this issue. And it is very interesting to see how the different world leaders responded to the covid crisis. Look at Trump for example, he couldn’t cope.

At a personal level, we all have friends and people we relate to and we see the crises in their lives. The difference is that most of you, instead of helping if you can, you just gossip about it.  If your friend is going through a personal crisis of nay nature, it is a warning to you that this kind of crisis could happen to you. And how different would you respond or what lesson do you take away from them.

If I cannot help, I do not make the situation worse. How? I don’t spread the information. I don’t discuss the person’s crisis with other people. I keep a distance. If at all I can reach out to that person, I then volunteer my view of how it can be resolved.

Crisis in my world is an opportunity to learn. It is also an opportunity to teach yourself how to deal with the situation. If it is not affecting you personally, it is an opportunity for you to learn at no cost because you go in, help the person deal with the situation, so in future when a similar crisis hits you, you know how to deal.

My cousin Vanessa always Robo you’re made for these kinds of conditions. Yes, because I love being at the centre of action. And I have been at the centre of action. When I see action, I immediately jump in. if I am not the main actor, at least I am a supporting actor or an extra but I will have a front seat to see how it is evolving.

I will talk about the typical reactions that come in times of crisis. Some people are courageous and they face. They take the circumstances they are facing and they deal with them and all the people they face.

The first reaction is always alarm. People set off alarm bells. The second reaction is panic. The third is denial. They would rather not contemplate it. Others simply freeze. It so overwhelming that they do not nothing. The other reaction is flight. Others are courageous. They stay to see what happened.

The second lesson I learnt from President Museveni. An issues exploded. The reporting of that issue was so dramatic. If you were living outside Uganda, you would have thought that the country is on fire. There was concern in the manner in which we were reporting the issue. And so the president called to express his views about the issue and also to guide

He taught me 4 principles.

  1. Strive to keep a cool head no matter the crisis
  2. Assess the situation. Find out what the real facts are
  3. Act rationally
  4. Never bring emotions to public affairs. Come to public affairs with an objective analytical mindset and whatever decision you make is not driven by emotions.

The responses that I have to crisis management come out of my history. First of all, I am a child of my generation. I was 3 years when Amin took over. We lived through the eight years of his reign. Many of you may never understand what it meant living through the Amin times. It was a time of collapse, of shortage and uncertainty.  After Amin, we had two years of total chaos. Then when had five years of a civil war from 1981. After 86, there were two years of great difficulty. If you lived through those times, you developed antennae to anticipate trouble. When you have grown up in such circumstances, there are certain things that always remain with you.

For me, I am one of those people always anticipating trouble. I guess it also comes from the fact that at school I was always very naughty. In the process, you also develop a coping mechanism. I am always anticipating in mind what could possibly go wrong and what could I do.

In all my leadership positions I played, I always asked what could go wrong. How would respond? If you can, use it as a form of anticipation, what could go wrong? By the way, always imagine the worst. There, nothing shocks you.

You must also know that after you have experienced a crisis, it will recur. I will give you an example, the people of my generation were what you’d call the children of the AIDS generation. In the late 80s and 90s, we were dealing with an epidemic called HIVV/AIDS. When covid came, it was not necessarily new. We have dealt with threats to public health; Ebola, AIDS, polio. In your mind you know how to respond. That time they gave us three options. You either abstain from sex or you remain faithful to your partner or used a condom. When covid came, you don’t get into a debate. They gave us the SOPs and that is what you do. It is a survival instinct.

The other thing I read a lot. I watch and observe people. I really like readings stories of people who dealt with crises. One of the people that influenced my thing a lot when I was reading a lot is a Ghanaian businessman called Sam Jona. He went on to manage a successful government enterprise and built it a continental company. Many of the lessons I picked form him I applied in my previous job and they worked for me. Read. Watch. Observe. Some people have dealt with big crises in their lives.

This, you owe it to yourself. You must constantly improve your cognitive skills. The first step I took is a combination of factors but it worked in my favour. The reason was and still is; alcohol impairs your ability to think clearly. One of the investments was, let me first remove external influences that would limit my ability to think. Some of you make the mistake of thinking that when there is brain activity you are thinking. No. thinking is a very deliberate activity. It is like saying that every movement is exercise.

With good cognitive skills means that in a crisis, you are so alert. Mentally, you are able to assess the situation as it evolves because you have the ability to analyse what is happening. You are able to put the big picture together. Otherwise, you will rely on your emotions. On your feelings. Sometimes, I watch public debates and people say “…the way I feel”. No one cares how you feel. It doesn’t matter.

A crisis in multi-faceted in nature. You’ve got to look at all the factors and not be blindsided and share your ideas with other people in an objective process of thinking. That is how you bring your skill and ability to solve a problem.

I also learnt that there is a difference between reaction and response. Reaction is when you are sitting somewhere someone comes and boxes you and box them back. A response is when someone boxes you and you first wait to find out why. Are they provoking me? There is always a gap. Response is deliberate. In a crisis, always develop the ability to come up with a response. Knee jack reaction will make you lose.  

Please note: as long as you do not think through your response, you are in big trouble.

In a crisis, please invest in knowing who you are and what you are capable of doing and what you do not know how to do. Then you will know how to resolve it. Many times, I would see people who came to resolve matters and they made them worse than they ought to be.

When the boat sank on Lake Victoria, there is chap called Brian Whyte. He turned up. He knew nothing. People are handling a situation and you come because of your own publicity. You may come off well but you left a problem behind. Sometimes in a crisis, you might be better off staying where you are. Sometimes you could even be the cause of the problem. So know who you are.

This leads me to my next point. All the relationships you build in life come through for you during a crisis. Because you know who you are and what you are capable of doing, you then know which friend to call in particular crisis. There are those people called number five. They are your midfield. Many of you get caught up on the wrong side of the law but you always know there is always that friend. And you better have that friend who will show up for you.

The networks and relationships you build, you should be able to leverage those relationships in a crisis. I have been in situation where I was out of the country, a situation happened and I had to ask someone to step in.

Also, you at one point will be the person that a friend will come to help in a crisis. People will alas remember you. For example, when we lose loved ones, we are always amazed at how people step in and take care of everything and make sure that the person grieving does not have to worry about logistics.

In normal times, expose yourself to difficult positions. You can go for extreme exercise to test your ability to deal with adversity. What do you expose yourself to deal with adversity? It helps you to build the fortitude you require to maintain yourself in the sober circumstance to be able to deal with the crisis.

The final point I want to share is that, in a crisis whatever happens communicate and be very honest. I was always very honest and direct with people. Of course you always have detractors, that’s fine. But be brutally honest.  After a while, they will be on your side and they will back you up. If you are gifted with a sense of humour, you can deliver the news with a sense of humour.

Be prepared to administer tough love. Be honest. Never sugar coat things thing in a middle of a crisis. Be visible. Let people see you trying to do something, they will build trust. If they don’t see you, there will be confusion. If you are the leader or the one in charge, take the most pain and be the last to benefit from any resolution. Do not be the first to benefit or shield yourself. If you do not take the lead, people may take the lead to resolve you.

When I was in the middle of a crisis, I took full personal responsibility. Once I did people were not worried of being thrown under the bus for whatever they did. They would apply themselves in helping to resolve the issue. Please be in charge and solve the problem.

Here is a link to the Q & A.

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