Crisis Leadership – more than managing people

In the last column, I focused on the results of what makes a good boss, but not every situation can be managed in the ‘business as usual’ mode. Often, particular leadership characteristics are required that are not normally expected or exhibited day to day.

“A crisis can arise when threats posed by adverse events or emerging issues are permitted to escalate beyond thresholds. Such a situation may result from natural (such as flood, earthquakes), man-made events (such as legal disputes, protest campaigns, major power failures) or perceived issues (such as uncorrected, negative media speculation). It may also come about as a result of where, in the eyes of stakeholders, we did not react to any of the above situations appropriately…” Chris Jenkins, CEO Thales Australia.

Such events will vary considerably in terms of seriousness but, if left unresolved, they may have the potential to threaten life, seriously harm an organisation’s reputation or affect its operations. An organisation must be prepared to act quickly and positively to:

  • protect life and health
  • maintain service continuity and the trust of its stakeholders
  • minimise damage to assets, business and operations
  • communicate with, and maintain the confidence of, internal and external stakeholders
  • cooperate in the maintenance of critical infrastructure and the environment

Leaders must maintain an awareness of those real and potential risks. They must also be prepared to deal with events outside their direct control in order to influence favourable outcomes wherever appropriate.

A crisis can attract considerable interest and scrutiny from both internal and external stakeholders. These stakeholders will form an impression of the crisis and how it is being handled from the quality, accuracy and promptness of information communicated. Poorly handled, the communication of key messages can damage the reputation of the company and can further escalate a crisis. When communicating to internal or external stakeholders, the leader or the spokesperson must adhere to the communications principles listed below.

Communications Principles

  • The health and safety of employees, customers and the public comes first. Offer help immediately and communicate it and show sincere concern for those affected and a desire to help in any way possible.
  • Response must be rapid. Acknowledge the situation to all audiences, including the media, quickly. The perfect solution debated for two weeks is a disaster. The organisation will be judged on how it handles the crisis during the first critical minutes and hours.
  • Strive for a balance between the response needs and the legal concerns.
  • Do not make up answers in the absence of fact, under the pressure of questioning.
  • Commit to notifying key stakeholders of the situation and consequent actions (as far as possible, they should hear first from the leader or the designated representative, not the media).
  • Assessment of appropriate communications mediums must be performed and reviewed.
  • Provide a media response as soon as is practically possible and provide media updates on a regular basis.
  • A campaign management approach must be adopted to ensure tight management, integration of messages and refinement following reaction to initial communication.

So, what are the characteristics of such a leader? At the Security Associations Seminar in November, the participants came up with the following elements, in no particular order:

Intellectual Physical Emotional
Objectivity

Listener

Understanding

Negotiator

Clarity

Strategic thinker

Operationally aware

Results/outcome focus

Dependable

Decisive

Communicator

Planner

Stamina

Active

Resilient

Good health

Manage stress

Controlled

Centred

Empathetic

Calm

Assertive

Reflective

Confident (not arrogant)

Stable

Resilient

Empowering

Rational

 

Now you have this list, add it to the list from the last article and start some self-awareness by considering these elements against your own characteristics. Ask, where am I weak and where am I strong, then plan the activities and exercises to overcome weaknesses and build and reinforce the strengths.

Jason Brown is the National Security Director for Thales in Australia and New Zealand. He is responsible for security liaison with government, law enforcement and intelligence communities to develop cooperative arrangements to minimise risk to Thales and those in the community that it supports. He is also responsible for ensuring compliance with international and commonwealth requirements for national security and relevant federal and state laws. He has served on a number of senior boards and committees, including Chair of the Security Professionals Australasia; Deputy Registrar Security Professionals Registry – Australasia (SPR-A); Chair of the Steering Committee for the International Day of Recognition of Security Officers; member of ASIS International Standards and Guidelines Commission; Chair of Australian Standards Committee for Security and resilience.

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