It’s been a busy month for crisis managers. From the BBC to Tesco and beyond, the crisis responses of corporations and their leaders have been watched by stakeholders, the public and the media. In each situation the problem has been unique to the business involved, but at the same time, every crisis requires leadership both internally and externally in front of the public, the press and the plethora of stakeholders that abound around every organisation.
What is it that a leader gives to a crisis management team – and the wider organisation – at such times of anxiety and stress?
A good leader provides the crisis management team with:
- FOCUS – a strong leader provides focus in a complex and fast moving situation, identifying what really matters and allowing necessary actions to move more quickly
- DIRECTION – a leader provides direction and guidance to people when they most need it, moving them quickly towards achieving that all-important control of the situation
- DECISIONS – it is the role of the leader to make difficult decisions, almost always in the face of uncertainty and often with unhappy outcomes as the ‘lesser of two evils’
- SUPPORT – an effective leader gives support to those less strong than themselves, helping to manage emotions in very tense environments
- HUMANITY – a good leader gives the organisation a human face, which the public needs to see in any crisis
- DRIVE – preventing procrastination and decision avoidance is a leader’s role
- CLARITY – this is a great challenge, but if the leader can give clarity to an otherwise chaotic situation, then control will soon follow
- ACCOUNTABILITY– the ultimate accountability for the way the incident is managed lies with the leader; this is often a double edged sword that can – and frequently does – result in resignation
Successful crisis leaders are pretty special people, and the impact of a good one is clear in any crisis. A leader’s worth is judged from the outside and it is the public perception of them – born through what was seen on the TV and in the printed word – that they will be remembered for.
As the human face of the organisation, it is not just personal reputation that is at stake, but that of the whole business. When a leader appears in control, confident (but not arrogant or dismissive) and empathetic they can win the trust of the public and safeguard the reputation of both themselves and their organisation, and move forward towards a resolution.
This is certainly a tough job, and not every leader can cut it in a crisis. Crisis leadership training builds the skills and competencies required to successfully lead a crisis management team, and media training and immersive simulation exercises can give leaders some much needed practice at this unique and challenging role.