Great leadership is critical in managing crisis
COMMONNESS - Bong R. Osorio (The Philippine Star) - June 11, 2017 - 4:00pm

A crisis response plan is like a fire extinguisher in a glass case with a note that says, “Break glass in case of fire.”

From what the world saw during several recent events, the glass case was indeed broken in order to manage certain situations: the suicide bombing at Ariana Grande’s Manchester concert; the war in Kabul, Afghanistan; the London Bridge and Burroughs terror attack in the UK; the severance of ties by nine nations with Qatar for alleged funding and hosting of a terrorist organization, which jeopardizes the future of many overseas Filipino workers; the Notre Dame hammer violence in France; and, closer to home, the Marawi City conflict that necessitated the declaration of martial law in Mindanao, which devastated the city and disrupted the lives of its residents; and the Resorts World Manila incident that raises many issues in its aftermath. 

Crises can happen anywhere in the world. There’s no debating that. You could even add that a crisis situation’s tragic ending could be prevented if there is a true and resolute crisis leader who stands in the line of fire and steers his team through the tests and difficulties.

Crisis response planning requires a combination of skills and behavior, both personal and professional. And this can be mastered if the crisis leader has the ability to stay on course and manage the whole situation from start to finish with patience, diplomacy, intelligence, manpower, and logistical support to back him up. Ten lessons come to mind:

• There are a lot of responsibilities that come with crisis. The job of the leader is to bring his team members together and quickly agree on what caused the crisis in the first place. Carefully recognizing and accepting the realities of the moment is a crucial step to finding the solution to the crunch.

• A crisis leader cannot go it alone when a crisis faces him. He must have a crisis team in place whose members are singing from the same hymnbook and are quickly linked up to provide help, ideas and experience toward the identification of corrective measures. It’s essential for a crisis leader to be open with others, own up to blunders, and look to trusted men, women and associates for counsel, assistance and encouragement.

• A communication web that links the cast of characters is critical. Crisis response must make sure that, given the limited time, it should be able to set priorities, and various efforts are aimed to achieve the desired result.

• A crisis situation will move from “bad” to “worse.” As a crisis guru said, “No matter how awful things are, they will get more awful.” A crisis leader has to confront this reality, and act based on the grim facts facing him. A crisis provides an internal compass that guides a crisis leader on how he handles things, people and situations, and everyone is watching to see how he goes through the dangerous affair.

• A crisis will test whether the crisis leader stays true to his values or not. These questions will be asked during or after the crisis: Does the leader bend to outside pressure or meet it head-on? Is he a quick thinker, a team player ready to sincerely perform short-term sacrifices for the good of a long-term solution when the dust of the crisis has settled down?

• The crisis leader and a member of the leadership team must be willing to tell the whole truth. It’s not sufficient to have just one person on the team as the truth teller. Everyone on the crisis team must be candid enough to share the entire truth, no matter how painful it is to efficiently move the crisis strategies and tactics.

• A good crisis is never wasted. This underscores the fact that when things are going well, the crisis leader refuses to go along with major transformations or simply endeavors to cope with minor alterations. A crisis provides the leader with a platform to get things done and offers a sense of urgency to accelerate whatever has to be implemented to avert further damage.

• Being aggressive during times of crisis may not be in accordance with what would naturally be assumed or expected. But then again, the situation brings excellent prospects in the crisis leader’s favor. He must look at a crisis as something to get through, until he and his team can go back to business as usual. But “business as usual” never returns because environments are irrevocably changed. In that case, he can consider creating the changes that move the environment in his favor, instead of waiting and reacting to the changes as they take place.

• Reviewing the crisis communication plan regularly is good advice. Is there a clear, focused message from the top decision maker? Has the crisis team painted crisis scenarios? Who composes the crisis team? What are the specific duties of each member and the chain of command that should be followed? Who is the designated spokesperson? What are the information disclosure guidelines? Who signs off on information verification and approval procedures? What are the approved background information, video, and photos? Who coordinates with the media and what are the rules of their engagement in a crisis situation? What goes on the detailed checklists? What are the procedures for debriefing and learning from the crisis?

• Crisis presents both danger and opportunity. There is a threat (loss of lives, disruption of business operations or national shame), time pressure, opportunity to review processes and policies, bring people together and generate brilliant solutions to the crisis at hand. It has been said before, and we should be reminded: a good crisis response plan is a plan that a crisis leader doesn’t get to open because he and his team are able to address identified vulnerabilities that prevent a crisis from happening. In other words, the glass case is not broken because there is no fire to extinguish.

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