Today’s post is by Adam Crowe – an expert in emergency preparedness and the author of Disasters 2.0. Here’s Adam…
Leadership in a crisis can be somewhat cliché, but in reality every organization, no matter how big or small, truly must have strong and consistent leadership during events that stress and overwhelm day-to-day practices. The crisis that is overlooked or forgotten is the one that emotionally impacts your organizations, but doesn’t structurally or actively impact your facilities, resources, and personnel.
Events like the attacks on September 11th, Newtown school shootings, and the Boston Marathon bombing have significant localized impacts, but also have far reaching emotional and spiritual impacts that ripple through the region, country, or even world. These secondary effects are not only some of the most difficult for leaders to identify, but also some of the most impactful as employees and organizational partners tend to be distracted, distraught, and disconnected as they try to process and understand the events around them. These characteristics lead to lowered efficiency and reduced productivity, which are ultimately the lifeblood of an organization. There are three leadership techniques that can be utilized to help address these issues:
Employees and organizational partners should be given the opportunity to have access to all sources of information realistically and reasonably available to a given organization. For example, if organizations routinely limit employee access to the Internet, social media outlets, or streaming video, a temporary reprieve from this limitation should be implemented. Likewise, televisions or other sources of information (if available) should be made available to all staff. This openness of information allows people to feel they are engaged in the process and no longer “in the dark.” While the information may ultimately still be limited, it will reduce the distracted thoughts of a worried team member.
It is important to allow people to outwardly respond to the external disaster. This includes small or large congregations of people discussing what has happened as well as the opportunity to make personal phone calls to friends, family, or community support to discussion the situation and process a response. This allows an employee’s community to provide a real support system rather than trying to artificially create something within a work environment that may or may not provide the required support. Additionally, organizations that employ or retain behavioral and mental health professionals (e.g., schools, medical facilities, etc.) should designate times and areas where employees can meet with those professionals to further process the emotional response to an event.
The last and perhaps most important leadership technique for dealing with crisis is flexibility. Whenever possible, leaders should be intentional about offering flexibility to employees – particularly those most impacted by the event. Some staff members are more impacted by the disaster or crisis and will want an opportunity to engage in ways that address this issue. Consequently it is critical to maintain some flexibility with their time and energies in the immediate aftermath of an event. This may include the opportunity to go home and console impacted family or engage in remote, yet active support of the disaster (e.g., blood drives). Likewise, leaders should maintain flexibility with employees who wish to organize activities or events that focus the emotional response on helping the actual victims of the event. This type of focus could be the organization of a fundraiser, collection of donated goods, prayer vigil, or other community event.
After the Crisis
After a crisis, the reality is that members of a team are going to respond to an external event in real and often unpredictable ways. For example, a leader may not be aware of a personal connection an individual has to the actual area impacted. For instance, after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, it seemed like everyone knew someone who had been directly impacted. This makes faraway events very real and very close. Taking a thoughtful, yet often passive role in this process of dealing with the crisis is important not only in the moment, but for the long-term and continued success of the organization or team.
Depending on the type of organization, these techniques may require an adjustment to work schedules or coverage of operational areas, but these temporary adjustments are significantly better options than allowing fear, frustration, and concern to run rampant through your organization. These approaches allow leaders to better control and manage the process rather than leave it to the whim of each employee. Strong leaders give their teams access to information and demonstrate as much flexibility as possible.
– Adam Crowe is a Certified Emergency Manager who is a nationally-recognized speaker and author on various issues related to emergency management, emergency preparedness, community relations, and social media utilization. He has worked in all areas of emergency management including planning, preparedness, operations, public information, stakeholder relations, and public education. He’s the author of Disasters 2.0: The Application of Social Media Systems for Modern Emergency Management (CLICK HERE to get your copy).