Crises change things. The difference between managing a crisis and leading through one is often related to leaders’ ability to keep their eyes on what really matters. One of the lessons from last week’s European debt crisis summit is how difficult it is to manage across groups when what really matters is different for each player.


Germany’s leader Merkel, was the only one who could lead the group through the crisis. From the German paper, Handelsblatt’s and The New York Times’ perspective, it was Merkel’s vision and master plan that prevailed.

Der Masterplan gegen die Eurokrise” (Germany’s Handelsblatt – “The Master Plan Against the Crisis”)

German Vision Prevails as Leaders Agree on Fiscal Pact” (The New York Times)


France’s leader, Sarkozy, was scared.  France’s banks were, and are, at risk. He needed some progress and is hoping the worst is over. (We’ll see.)

Crise de la zone euro : et si le pire était passé?” (France’s Le Monde – “The worst is over”)

United Kingdom

The U.K. did not want to get sucked into the euro death spiral. It was feeling pretty good that it had kept its own currency and neither wanted to, nor felt that it needed to, give up its fiscal sovereignty.

Britain stands alone” (The Times of London)

Britain’s cold shoulder for Europe” (Financial Times – U.K.)

European Union

While much is left to be decided, it does look like there is some sort of split coming.

Europe’s great divorce” (Economist)

Questions Plague EU Fiscal Pact” (The Wall Street Journal)

Leading Through a Crisis

In a crisis, it’s important to keep the ultimate purpose in mind. That purpose needs to inform and frame everything you do over the short-, mid-, and long-term as you lead through a crisis instead of merely out of a crisis. Crises change your organization. Be sure that the choices you make during crises change you in ways that move you toward your purpose and not away from your core vision and values. (From “The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan.” For a white paper on leading through a crisis, click here.)

Follow the Money

In the case of the euro crisis, it’s reasonable to assume that each leader was looking out for the well being of his or her own country’s citizens. It’s not surprising that Merkel and Sarkozy were more closely aligned in their approach while the U.K.’s Cameron was not. Germany and France share the same currency. The U.K. does not. Over time, it has become more and more clear that monetary alignment does not work without fiscal alignment. Without the pull of the monetary union, it’s not surprising that the U.K. balked at a closer fiscal union.

Leading Different Groups Through a Crisis Together

Leading different groups through a crisis together requires a shared purpose. You must find the common ground across different groups to have a hope of getting people aligned around a common approach. This could be a common, shared goal. Or it could be a common, shared desire to do good for someone else.

This is a good example of step 6 of The New Leader’s PlaybookEmbed a Strong Burning Imperative

The burning imperative is a sharply defined, intensely shared, and purposefully urgent understanding from each of the team members of what they are “supposed to do, now.” Get this created and bought into early on—even if it’s only 90 percent right. You, and the team, will adjust and improve along the way.

The learning from the European debt crisis is just how important it is to figure out what matters to each of the different parties involved.  The more they share a common purpose, the easier it is going to be to get them to share an imperative.

Click here to read about each step in the playbook

Click here for YouTube videos highlighting each step


The New Leader’s Playbook includes the 10 steps that executive onboarding group PrimeGenesis uses to help new leaders and their teams get done in 100-days what would normally take six to twelve months. George Bradt is PrimeGenesis’ managing director, and co-author of The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan (Wiley, 3rd edition 2011). Follow him at @georgebradt or on YouTube.