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10 Leadership Actions for Crisis Management

How can a leader be effective in crisis management when a real, no-kidding, unanticipated disaster strikes? Some years ago I commanded a large Air Force squadron that was faced with a major crisis that threw us off our game for a while. Without going into details, I’ll say that the incident was national news for some time and had international consequences. As we weathered that storm, I found these 10 actions are important in crisis management.

Some of those crisis management steps occurred before the crisis happened.

1. Have good plans and establish a strong culture in the organization. We had that, thanks to the work of a crew of good supervisors. They knew what they were doing and had high levels of knowledge and integrity.

2. Develop effective leaders. I was blessed with some of the most outstanding leaders I’ve known. I can’t claim all the credit as most of them were in their positions before I arrived, but they were there at the right time and they made the difference.

3. Adopt an effective leadership style that encourages everyone in the organization to be engaged. Encourage your leaders to lead and make sure they know they have the authority to take action. No matter how good your leaders are, if you don’t let them lead, they won’t be there when you need them.

4. Develop good relationships. Other people and organizations are going to be essential to your recovery. Fortunately, we had a good relationship with several agencies that would be essential to our ability to move forward.

If you’ve accomplished these steps before a crisis, the next steps will be easier.

5. When the unthinkable happens, stop and take a deep breath. In this case, as soon as we could, we gathered everyone together and asked, “What do we do now.” I believe this helped settle everyone down and keep us focused on the right actions.

6. Do quick analysis before quick action. Granted there may not be time for a detailed look at all the variables, but a cursory review is essential. Several of the organization’s more junior leaders got this right by quickly evaluating the situation and taking the correct immediate action.

7. Take the high road. It’s very tempting to immediately begin the blame game. After all, if heads are going to role, we want to make sure ours isn’t one of them. While it will be necessary to determine what happened and how to prevent it from happening again, now just isn’t the time.

8. Keep a record. This is something I failed to do. Later, I was scratching my head tryng to remember some important points. Every crisis presents a learning opportunity. After the smoke has cleared is a good time to review those lessons and it’s easier if you’ve written them down. That also means keeping track of those people who move heaven and earth to save the day.

9. Keep your eye on the future. It’s very easy to get so bogged down in crisis management that you, and more importantly your organization, will completely lose sight of where you were going in the first place. While problems present set-backs, don’t lose your vision.

10. Be the leader. You’re probably stressed and worried. Keep that to yourself. Your team needs a leader who stays on an even keel and rises above the muck. They will mirror your attitude so don’t become a defeatist. Unfortunately, in this situation two of our more senior leaders didn’t understand this point and had a noticeable, negative effect on the rest of the organization.

Every team will face a crisis at some point. The crisis management steps the leader takes will determine how well, and how quickly, the team recovers.


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