I’m reflecting this week on what I learned about crisis management from a particularly experienced instructor pilot in the Air Force helicopter rescue unit were we were both assigned. He said that, in an emergency, the first thing to do is “hack the clock.” I wrote about this in August – but today I’m revisiting the topic and offering an infographic to glance at when you’re under pressure.
Note: A little while ago I published Hack the Clock. It was the first real article published in this newer newsletter format, and I’ve been encouraged to see people ‘like’ and share it on LinkedIn and Twitter. Since then I’ve learned that a lot of readers appreciate seeing a visual with each article that expresses the key ideas without being wordiney. Today I’m taking a step in that direction – supplementing the original Hack the Clock article with an infographic. If I hear back that you like visuals like this, I’ll do more. So please see below and comment!
Years ago, when I was training as a crew member in an Air Force helicopter rescue unit, we learned to follow three cardinal rules in an emergency: maintain control, analyze the situation, and take the appropriate action. Those rules — and the advice of an experienced instructor pilot — have stayed with me all these years.
The instructor pilot said the first thing to do in an emergency is “hack the clock.” He was referring to the wind-up clock used for a type of navigation called time, distance, heading. The clock has a button that when pushed, starts a timer to give accurate timing for a particular navigational leg. He called pushing this button, “hacking the clock.”
This pilot’s logic was that pushing the button on the clock, though it had nothing to do with the emergency, provided an action that allowed the brain to recover from the initial surprise and concern, avoiding an incorrect — and possible deadly — reaction.
These days, I apply the Air Force’s procedures for emergency management to business crisis management. Here’s how you can, too:
About maintaining control
There’s an old saying about how it is hard to remember your mission is to drain the swamp when you’re up to your backside in alligators. That’s why it’s so critical to ensure leaders have a solid plan with mission, values, and goals clearly spelled out. Then, when the going gets a little difficult, there is a solid foundation which will help the leader remember what’s important and maintain control.
About analyzing the situation
In the aircraft we had multiple sources of data to help us determine what the problem was, like:
- The feel of the aircraft
- And even smell
We could put all that information together to come up with a pretty good idea what was wrong. Business leaders also have a lot of data available, like:
- Various statistics
- Input from trusted people
- Their own personal experience
A good leader will take all this input and use it to analyze the situation before taking action.
About taking appropriate action
This is the last step, not the first. The word “appropriate” is key. Many leaders will take action just to be doing something or, worse yet, to try to solve a problem quickly. That seldom works because they’ve missed the critical step of analyzing the situation. Only after as careful an analysis of the situation as time and resources permit should a leader pursue any action.
It may seem like I’m advocating a very slow approach to problem solving. I’m not! These steps can be performed quickly, though I strongly recommend using whatever time is available.
What’s your advice on leadership during a crisis? Did I leave something out? Is the infographic useful? Please leave a comment or get in touch.