Reflections on Crisis Leadership - Crisis
"Very often campaigning organizations operate in a crisis mode because the „market“ is turbulent and dynamic, your opponents’ next moves are unknown, resources are tight and decisions must be made fast without all relevant information at hand. "
The Peter Metzinger, Mr.Campaigning
“Leaders in a crisis do not have to be happy about the decisions they make but they must be comfortable to take the decision”
The Honorable George W. Bush (US President 2001 – 2009)
LEADERS AND TEAMS
What is the role of leaders in a crisis?
In the excellent Apple TV and BBC documentary, ‘9/11 Inside the President’s War Room’, Mr. Bush and his closest advisors reveal, first-hand, their thoughts and fears in the immediate hours after the attacks of 9/11.
But more than that… they also reflected on leadership, communication, and decision making.
Let’s analyze some of the comments made by Mr. Bush…
“I made some big decisions having taken the advice of a very smart group of people”
The ramifications of the decisions made by Mr. Bush (close US airspace, for example) may be at the extreme end of our consciousness, but such decisions are scalable to any company managing a crisis.
The leadership lesson here is to listen to those in the room. There will be differing opinions, possibly arguments but that should not diminish the importance of the Team.
“Teams function best when the leader asserts themselves… I wanted them to know that everyone has a role to play”
Whenever conducting crisis management training, I make the point that members of crisis teams wear two hats into the room. The first one is their professional or functional hat, to provide guidance on their individual area of expertise. The second is their Team hat; they are a member of a crisis management team and are required to be part of a problem-solving process that extends way outside of any one person's expertise, requiring original thought and collaboration.
“In a crisis, it is essential that leadership continually try to reassure the people”
The People here of course are the US population and a wider audience. But the principle of communication and reassurance is equally relevant to company crises. There are far too many examples where those who are last to hear about the response to a crisis are affected employees, families, clients, and even Board members.
This is the job of the leader. Even if the news is bad, the direct and visible intervention by leadership will reassure people that things are being done and that there is senior commitment to make things better.
“Speak on a regular basis as you gather facts”
Facts! What do we know for sure? In my experience of multiple real crises, the initial period of crisis management has sometimes been wasted by guesswork. Certainly, it is important to get ahead of the crisis, to be proactive, to consider contingency arrangements but in those golden hours when quality information and resources are in short supply, concentrate on what you know for sure. That is your priority; deal first with the facts and what is directly in front of your face.
RESPONSIBILITY AND ACCOUNTABILITY
Once all information has been analyzed and all opinions considered, the leader has the ultimate responsibility to make a decision. It speaks of accountability; the leader must be prepared to defend their decisions and to be held accountable for them.
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