On the morning of September 11, 2001 and the days that followed leaders at all levels of business and government faced a situation unlike anything experienced before. During a crisis people turn to their leaders, formal and informal, to understand how to respond with both their actions and their emotions. Of course the leaders themselves face questions and their own emotions as well, placing high demands on the leader.
How do you respond to a crisis like 9/11 regardless of where you and your offices are located? What do you tell people in Manhattan, Washington, Phoenix, Chicago and suburban offices? What do you say and do immediately and then in the coming hours and days? What makes one leader more successful in a crises than another? What can we learn about leadership development from this crisis?
Key Leadership Qualities Emerge – 3 Leadership Development Lessons
Clarity of Values Leads to Decisive Action – Leaders who understand their own values and the corporate values have no question about what is important in a crisis. They understand the balance between needing to serve their customers and the need to serve the people in their organization. While companies have disaster plans and define essential and non-essential employees and functions, in a non-predictable crises those plans need to be redrawn in the moment. When life and limb of employees and customers is at stake, what do you do given the work your business performs?
Take for example the ferry operators in NYC who converted their businesses of shuttling paying customers to evacuating people. Employees who stepped up to help direct people and comfort those in distress. CEO’s and office managers deciding to close offices. And first responders charging into skyscrapers.
When you know what is most important the path forward is often clear.
Understanding of Purpose and Mission – When leaders and their followers have a strong connection to their purpose and their mission they are motivated to take action in a crises. Why do firefighters charge into a burning building putting their lives at risk? They have a connection to their purpose, and it may be different for each one. They also have a mission, the knowledge of how they carry out their purpose. If their purpose is to save lives, some will have a mission to put out the flames. Others a mission to evacuate people, others mission is to observe what is happening and evacuate first responders when necessary. Each has a role to play.
For other business their mission may be one to provide support by keeping telecommunications available to those who need it most. Some may be in charge of ensuring everyone on the floor evacuates. For others, your work may not be important in a crises and your mission is to get out of the way and avoid becoming a victim that complicates the situation.
Emotional Intelligence – Leaders who inspire people in a crisis are both aware of their emotions and when to detach from them and to share them. In the moment of the crises a leaders are aware they are feeling confused or afraid. They acknowledge that to themselves and possibly to others. Then they make their decisions and move forward. When the immediacy of the danger is past, they continue to be aware of their emotions and their employees’ emotions and they connect and share with everyone. The most respected CEOs following 9/11 were those who some days later, after the turmoil subsided, gathered with their employees and shared their emotions. They showed it was ok to cry. Rather than put up emotional walls about moving forward and being brave, they connected with their emotions, shared them and in being vulnerable themselves led the way for everyone else to feel safe in doing the same.
What did you learn about leadership from how people around you responded on September 11th and the days after? Please share your lessons in the comments below.
Larry Boyer is problem solver who people turn to when they need help to reach their goals. He has 20 years of experience creating innovative analytical solutions requiring cross functional collaboration with business, analytical and IT experts. Larry is a regular Top Contributor in several LinkedIn Groups, including groups for the Big 4, Advanced Analytics, Big Data and others. Through his company Success Rockets, Larry helps select individuals and business with leadership and career development.
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