There are many skills and personal traits that leaders should have in everyday business. During a crisis, a leader needs to have a range of specific traits that are crucial to the management of the incident. Here are three of those traits based on my personal experience from both the military and corporate environments:
1 – Listening is a Lost Art
The art of listening is something that only experienced and well trained crisis leaders do in the midst of an emergency. The ability to consume information at a rapid rate, and make decisions based on that information, is something that requires focus when listening to the details that a leader is being provided by his or her team.
Related: PreparedEx Podcast: Interview with Peter Gaynor- Director of RIEMA
2 – Trust
Having trust in your team is essential; you can’t do everything. I’ve seen leaders try to manage elements of incidents that should have been someone else’s responsibility, and a leader’s micromanagement is not good for the confidence of that individual or of the team that is being shadowed. Trust is built through training and exercises so that the leader and the team members have worked together in simulated situations and have learned to understand each other’s capabilities. But, as a leader, you also need to have the particular responsibility to maintain a 1000-foot view of the situation. Getting into the details will take your focus away from the bigger picture and overall crisis response strategy, which should be one of your main objectives.
3 – Don’t be Afraid of Failure
During the Chilean mining tragedy where 33 miners were trapped underground for 69 days, the leader of the incident tried several different rescue drilling options before they finally came up with one that worked. The ability to recover from a failure and change direction when something isn’t working is a key trait of any good leader. A leader who sits back and is reluctant to alter course as conditions change or hesitates as the crisis unfolds is not a leader. True leaders learn from failure and readjust to achieve success.
About Rob Burton
Rob is a Principal at PreparedEx where he manages a team of crisis preparedness professionals and has over 20 years of experience preparing for and responding to crises. Part of his leadership role includes assisting PreparedEx clients in designing, implementing and evaluating crisis, emergency, security and business continuity management programs. During his career Rob has worked for the US State Department’s Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program, as a crisis management consultant in Pakistan and Afghanistan where he negotiated with the UN and Pashtun tribal warlords and he served with the United Kingdom Special Forces where he operated internationally under hazardous covert and confidential conditions. Rob was also part of a disciplined and prestigious unit The Grenadier Guards where he served Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at the Royal Palaces in London. Rob was a highly trained and experienced infantryman serving in Desert Storm and commanded covert operational teams and was a sniper. Rob has keynoted disaster recovery conferences and participated in live debates on FOX News regarding complex security requirements and terrorism. Rob has a Queen’s Commendation for Bravery.
The remarks and the observed traits are accurate but the accompanying picture contributes to the myth that “incidents” are “crises” and that incident commanders to manage and can crises. There are many significant differences between incidents and crises, not least the scope, scale, content and duration. Many large organisations still appear to be struggling to identify the differences and so continue to operate without the capability to manage either incidents or crises properly.