About the Crisis Leadership Forum

To better understand the leadership dimensions of crisis situations, the Center for Creative Leadership convened a forum with formal and emergent leaders who played a role in Hurricane Katrina. We overlaid this conversation between crisis leaders with the perspectives of discussants with expertise in disaster, terrorism, public health, and leadership. This blog site is intended to continue this conversation.

To read the report on the Crisis Leadership Forum, please click here.

To read CCL's Leading Effectively newsletter on the Forum, please click here.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Taking a Chance on Crisis

In Progressive Leadership In Times of Crisis Robert J. Fazio and Jason M. Briggs find that many organizations choose to leave crisis preparedness to chance. The stats they cite are compelling:

- An organization will face a crisis every 4-5 yrs.
- A CEO can expect to manage at least one crisis in his/her tenure.
- 81% of CEOs say their companies are vulnerable to serious business disruption due to a crisis.
- Many firms have not fully tested their crisis management plans that do exist.

Why then are we not better prepared? Fazio and Briggs indicate a sense of delusion pervades: 97% of Fortune 500 CEOs are confident that they would perform well if a crisis occurred.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Crises Top the News in 2007

Six of the top ten news stories of 2007 in TIME Magazine's year-end recap were crises. Three were political: Pakistan, Burma, and Iraq; one was economic: the subprime mortgage crisis; one was corporate: the Chinese product recalls; and one was the shootings at Virginia Tech.

In CNN's reader poll, the top 8 newsmakers were crises, with the Minnesota bridge collapse, California fires, and Iran also on the list.

Meaning and Motivation in Disaster Preparedness and Relief

Carol Pearson presented this research at the International Leadership Association gathering in Vancouver. She was kind enough to share her study here.

Meaning and Motivation in Disaster Preparedness and Relief:
Insights from Organizational and Team Culture Indicator™ Results for SELA Red Cross Post-Katrina Organizational Recovery

By Carol S. Pearson, Ph.D.[1]
Director of the James MacGregor Burns Academy of Leadership, University of Maryland

The important Center for Creative Leadership study of crisis leadership, Stepping Into the Void, outlines critical questions for our understanding of the dynamics of leadership during crises of mega-proportions, such as with Hurricane Katrina. The following brief article augments that study by exploring organizational cultures and their resilience as they recover or prepare for such unforeseen disasters.

The Organizational and Team Culture Indicator™ (OTCI) was administered to the Southeast Louisiana Red Cross chapter (SELA) as part of a post-Katrina intervention to rebuild chapter resilience. This effort was lead by Dr. John Harrald, Director of The George Washington University Institute for Crisis, Disaster, and Risk Management, and Laura Olsen, Research Scientist, who coordinated the project. It was supported by funds from the American Red Cross national office.[2] My role was as a consultant on the project, responsible for administering and interpreting the OTCI data and working with the executive team to reestablish the health and strength of SELA’s organizational culture.

Almost everyone understands that organizational culture matters greatly, whether to healthy organizational functioning in good times or to establishing the resiliency to weather difficult ones. However, organizational culture is difficult to decode. Most historical work on culture itemizes discrete behavioral elements such as power distances, acceptable space between people, and the like. Such approaches are valuable, but difficult for most individuals to get their arms around. The Organizational and Team Culture Indicator™ [3]is designed to go deeper to identify the sense of meaning and motivation experienced by the people within the organization. It does so by identifying universal (or archetypal) narratives that groups live out collectively almost as if they were all living in the same movie or play. Because we all know these narratives, which live in all cultures and in all times, virtually anyone can grasp the nature of the culture as a gestalt, not simply as a series of discrete behaviors, and thus know how to behave in it without memorizing lots of individual rules.

The OTCI is a useful tool for helping a group restore a healthy and resilient culture after dysfunction caused by trauma. It does this, in part, by helping people to understand and articulate the best of who they are as well as how they are hurting, and to restoring what has been best about them. It works precisely because it is based on timeless human narratives that have provided meaning to human endeavors in all times and all places—narratives that everyone knows and has access to.

Southeast Louisiana Red Cross Chapter: Post-Katrina Resiliency Project

After a crisis of the magnitude of Katrina and with the slow pace of recovery for New Orleans, how do you reestablish resiliency in a battered but noble organization? How do you care for wounded warriors who give their all to save the lives of strangers—in any disaster relief organization?

Going into the work with SELA, I had not known that after even major disasters of lesser scale, most disaster relief organizations lose much of their staff and volunteers, and many fold or become dysfunctional. Not surprisingly, then, post-Katrina SELA lost a good percentage of its key staff, both paid and volunteer. What was hopeful about SELA is that it quickly hired as many new staff as possible in a city populated by the walking wounded. That it was able to do so was a reflection of leadership—by the CEO, Kay Wilkins, as well as many other capable leaders at all levels.

Meeting the SELA staff who stayed was heart wrenching. Many had lost family members as well as homes. Some lost everything, and many were living in FEMA trailers or camping out in the basements of relatives. Many seemed to be suffering from post-traumatic stress, having flashbacks to the horror of it all—or belatedly feeling the pain of helping strangers while not knowing whether their own family was safe.

What was both touching and inspiring to me was how the staff continued to give selflessly to others while grappling with extreme physical and emotional difficulties themselves. Meanwhile, the organization itself was experiencing huge challenges. The American Red Cross supplemented SELA by funding a Hurricane Recovery Program (HRP) to work alongside the chapter, but its work was hampered by how overwhelmed the government and nonprofit agencies were. HRP staff members were trained to refer clients to other agencies for various purposes, but soon found that even people in desperate circumstances often came up empty-handed, as the agencies either had nothing to give or had huge backlogs. Trying to help their clients in these situations was frustrating and disheartening.

To make things worse, several smaller natural disasters occurred the year after Katrina, and another horrendous hurricane season was predicted. Both SELA and HRP had to hire and train new people quickly, which put an extra strain on all concerned, but particularly those who had just risen into management positions to fill vacancies and newly created jobs. The staff was understandably demoralized and out of juice.

The intervention, as designed by a high-powered consulting team, began with an interview process, identifying the concerns of the SELA and HRP staffs, and administration of the Organizational and Team Culture Indicator™ instrument to participating staff. The concerns raised in the interviews were discussed during a four-day retreat, and groups were formed to address them. At this same retreat, the OTCI results (based on an N-64) were shared and their implications discussed.

Three archetypal stories were identified by the instrument and validated by the retreat participants as providing the meaning and motivation narratives for SELA’s work:
The Everyperson narrative, which spoke to the deep belief held by the staff and volunteers in the importance of respecting the dignity of every person they work with, regardless of their education, income, circumstances, ethnicity, or gender. It also reflected the fact that many of the staff were living in post-Katrina New Orleans in very basic conditions themselves; they had not been spared the devastating experiences their clients endured.

The Hero narrative, whereby they expected to do whatever was necessary—no matter how difficult—to help people during and after disasters, even if those disasters were unprecedented in their severity.

The Caregiver narrative, whereby they simply assumed that they should be compassionate, altruistic, and caring to others, no matter how shattered their own lives might be.

The results, as interpreted by the participants, put in sharp relief a paradoxical outcome of living such idealistic stories together: the staff recognized how their demoralization resulted, in part, from the contrast between the enormity of the devastation in New Orleans and the limited resources available to address the results of this devastation. This meant that no matter how hard they tried, they could not succeed in fulfilling the expectations of even one of these noble narratives.

As might be expected with so much stress and frustration, the staff had begun to spend a good bit of time blaming other agencies, each other, and management for the inability to solve the massive problems facing their clients and themselves. Recognizing the discrepancy between their aspirations and what was really possible began to undercut such divisions and helped people to focus on working together toward realistic goals and to solve the very real problems that were overwhelming their system.

Two other archetypal stories also were important to them. The story that actually scored highest in their profile was the Ruler. The participants determined that this story was not a primary motivator for them, but it reflected their being part of a prestigious, powerful, and bureaucratic organization. The Innocent story defined their organizational learning style (a narrative that—in contrast to the autonomous Explorer and scholarly Sage—assumes that others—in this case the national or local leadership—should be responsible for providing all necessary training).

Understanding these results helped the participants normalize why they felt so demoralized and understand that while they could not help the fact that Katrina happened and the pain its aftermath caused for them and their clients, they could decrease their pain in some ways: supporting one another more so that they would not feel so alone and letting go of feeling inadequate because they could live out Hero/Caregiver/Everyperson only at a human scale, not on the mythic scale by which they judged themselves. As the organizational leadership worked with the data, they recognized that they needed to help the staff develop reasonable, focused, attainable goals and to celebrate the heroic, caring, and egalitarian spirit they demonstrated in doing so.

In addition, the high results on Ruler—which was the Red Cross’s public identity—helped SELA’s leaders understand why desperate people in New Orleans sometimes believed that SELA had secret funds that they were refusing to provide to the relief effort. People were projecting onto them a perception of the Red Cross as an elite and wealthy organization that was rich beyond measure. So the charge was that the Red Cross was simply holding out on them. Recognizing this, SELA’s leaders were able to go out into the community and talk about the Everyperson, Hero, and Caregiver motivations of the organization and to model transparency in what resources were actually available to them, thus quelling as much as possible the negative rumor mill.

SELA’s leaders also were aided by seeing where the organization had scored low. The leadership had emerged from the Katrina experience with great respect and pride at what had been accomplished, but some accompanying concern that while had they showed more creativity in the moment, more might have been accomplished. The OTCI results suggested that great creativity was not to be expected, as the organization as a whole scored low in the more innovative narratives: Creator, Explorer, Magician, Revolutionary.

This is not to say that innovative resourcefulness was completely absent. After all, these are people who ran shelters for evacuees without enough food, water, or medicine, or diapers for incontinent elderly and babies—much less enough toilet paper. They could and did tap into creative solutions in the service of their Hero and Caregiver motivations. What some were grieving was that while they had followed orders and evacuated with others, putting together shelters outside of New Orleans, in retrospect they felt that they lacked the more radical and rule-breaking sense of innovation that might have allowed them to get more help to those who were desperate and trapped in the city. However, such Revolutionary action was acknowledged to be unlikely in an organization whose highest archetype was the Ruler.

Both leadership and the consultation team also learned from observation of the process as well as from the OTCI results that our initial intervention design was not a good cultural fit, as it expected staff to take ownership of identifying solutions to the issues and concerns raised in their interviews. Both the busyness of their schedules and the Innocent expectations that others (management and the consulting team) should remediate those concerns made it necessary to adapt the consultation design to fit their situation and culture. Discussion with leadership also explained why abandoning hierarchy and turning the power over to the people (staff) could not work in disaster relief—a field much like the military. As the CEO put it, when I tell people to leave their own families and evacuate others, I need to know they will do what I say.

Heroes and Caregivers are used to helping others without thought for themselves. Given the level of their pain, however, many staff felt betrayed that the organization was not caring for them the way they all cared for the client groups. Moreover, they felt that management, overwhelmed by their own pain and challenges, was not listening to them when they raised important questions or asked for time to address their own recovery needs.

As a result, a major focus of the project became an initiative in which management practiced empathic active listening with their staffs. In this process, management also demonstrated that they were modeling the ideals of the culture: a Ruler sense of responsibility and authority; the Everyperson’s respect for and attention to each person on the staff; and the Caregiver and Hero commitment to helping those in trouble—in this case, the staff, which was feeling as demoralized as were their clients. As a result of this process, the staff gained familiarity with their individual as well as the organization’s archetypes, creating a shared language for discussing deep motivations and the stories they were living individually and collectively. Most salient for many was understanding the Destroyer archetype, which allowed them to normalize the feelings elicited by unwanted loss and change and recognize how the Destroyer can lead to metamorphosis and renewal.

Out of these exchanges, a shared sense of working together to remediate problems was restored.

Recognizing that strategies for healing must be culture specific and appropriate, the design of the final retreat was influenced greatly by the culture of New Orleans—a city built around the love of music and the art, and one that celebrates life through partying. Creative Leaps—a group of world-class musicians who teach leadership (and other topics) through music and other arts—inspired the group by its musical celebration of SELA’s heroism and by connecting what they had done with the shared human legacy of heroic and noble sacrifice. At this final session, participants shared their love of New Orleans, one another, and the work they do, as well as their appreciation for the healing nature of the work they had done together. Many disclosed that they felt once again like “one Red Cross,” with the confidence that together they could handle the challenges of the next season.

The intervention was so successful that the retreat ended with an authentically celebratory Second-Line Parade, with the staff dancing down the street behind a New Orleans jazz band, looking energized and genuinely happy.

[1] The views and analysis in this paper are those of the author and do not reflect those of the Red Cross or the Institute for Crisis, Disaster, and Risk Management.isas
[2] Amy Mintz and Gregg Oryon at the Red Cross National Office and SELA CEO Kay Wilkins played major roles in supporting this project.
[3] For more information about the Organizational and Team Culture Indicator™, visit www.capt.org.

The Literature on Crisis Leadership

Donna Dinkin, a public health expert and scholar of crisis preparedness, was a discussant at the Crisis Leadership Forum. A literature review of crisis leadership by Donna is available in the Forum report.

I was negotiating space for a large public health conference which was to be held in New Orleans in the fall of 2005. I was scheduled to fly into New Orleans on August 29, 2005 for a meeting with event planners the following day. This ended up being a remarkable day in the history of our country and in the world of disaster response. Hurricane Katrina hit the gulf coast that day at 6:10am. Needless to say my flight was cancelled, I relocated my event and I watched, with millions of Americans, a tragedy of epic proportions unfold on our television sets. My brush with what is now known as one of most devastating US natural disasters in recent history is not the reason I attended the Crisis Leadership Forum at the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) in March 2007. While the effects of this disaster on me highlight the trickling impact such a disaster can have, the reason I was present at this forum has more to do with my hat as scholar of crisis preparedness.

I have studied organizational crisis preparedness in local health departments and have been a contributor to preparedness efforts in both a school setting and in a public health arena for the last 15 years. I am also a member of the Guilford County Medical Reserve Corp, a new volunteer entity preparing itself to assist the local health community respond to any public health emergency. It is with these lenses that I reflect on the proceedings from the Crisis Leadership Forum. Specifically, I would like to share my opinions of the value of this event in light of the current literature on crisis preparedness and crisis leadership and share some resources that may be helpful to those wanting to increase their own skills at leading during a community wide crisis.

While not designed as a research study, the Crisis Leadership Forum hosted at the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, NC supported some of the key points that have been made in the literature about crisis leadership. It also highlighted some areas in need of more study. I believe the discussion supported the need for improved collective action for crisis response and underscored the need for long term emotional support of all people affected by a disaster or crisis. It also highlighted the need for an integration of what is known by different academic and practitioner disciplines to help create a better understanding of how to prevent or respond to crises. Even forum participants from CCL identified links that had not previously been made between their work and the field of crisis leadership. Current work at CCL which could contribute to our current understanding of crisis leadership include the studies around complex challenges, relationships and collective leadership and stress and resiliency.

The forum also produced some questions that have received little attention in the crisis literature. First the discussion at the forum unveiled in more detail the paradoxical nature of crises. The Chinese word for crisis, wei-ji, is often used to highlight one paradox (Nathan 2000, Roux-Dufort 2000). This word is composed of two characters which apart symbolize the concepts of danger and opportunity. While threat and opportunity are often seen as two sides of the same coin, one doesn’t always take advantage of opportunities while they feel threatened. The same is true for other paradoxical aspects of crises. For example, some have difficulty planning for the worst while they are also simultaneously hoping for the best. The forum highlighted many such paradoxes of crisis leadership which deserve additional discussion and research. How does one lead in a crisis when opposing views are equally truthful and right? Research suggests that having a plan of action which outlines what to do and when to do it is helpful in a crisis. Knowing what steps to take can make the difference between life and death. On the other hand, no crisis occurs as planned and crisis leaders must be able to solve problems that no one had ever considered. Not having a plan allows direct responders to make decisions at the time they are needed. Not following a prescribed plan can make the difference between life and death. How to derive wisdom and skill from the paradoxes found in crisis is a need for future study.

The CCL Forum exposed another dimension of the crisis response system that I believe should receive more attention; that is the role of the grassroots community leader. Efforts have been made across the country to build the skills and capacity of governmental agencies and private businesses, particularly those within the medical community, to deal with crises. Other non-profit organizations and faith based institutions have also been identified as potential service providers in times of community crisis. But little is known about the role of the real "first responders"; individuals without formal responder training, who not only take action but become leaders throughout the response and recovery periods. It is because of the chaos and gaps that these people rise and it’s because of these people that gaps and chaos are minimized. Others have written about the need to manage and coordinate the work of unaffiliated volunteers who rush to the location of a disaster ( Fernandez, Barbera and vanDorp). But what has not been thoroughly researched is why and how some of these individuals become leaders in traumatic situations? And, how the formal crisis response system can support and manage these individuals as they take action? Their role as crisis leaders is important to study. Including these leaders into the crisis leadership framework and finding ways to support their work will improve our current response system.

Finally, I believe the CCL Crisis Leadership Forum has the potential of making a significant contribution to both the crisis leadership literature and to the practice of crisis preparedness by sharing the process used for dialogue and conversation at this event. Specifically I believe that the process used over the two day event was a model for both community recovery and systems learning. These are two areas of preparedness that are often neglected. The recovery process, as seen by the struggles of the communities affected by Hurricane Katrina, is long and complex. It goes well beyond the length at which Americans want to think about any one event. Unlike the immediate focus of saving lives after a tragic event, long term recovery has no single focus, nor any quick answers. Research shows that learning from a crisis is also limited. Researchers have suggested that there is a limited time period in which people and organizations will be able to optimize learning from a crisis (Roux-Dufort, Kovoor-Misra and Nathan). Factors which limit learning include lack of trust, need for normalization and fear of self awareness (Roux, 2000). The Crisis Leadership Forum provided a safe and constructive environment for constructive learning from a key event, the Katrina tragedy (Ernst and Martin, 2007). As described in the Forum report, learning and healing occurred through an unconventional conversation which included storytelling, art, and reflection. I believe this process is worth sharing with crisis scholars and community leaders.

In summary, the study of the nature and practice of crisis leadership is limited by the nature of crises. It is further hampered by some aspects of American culture such as a crisis focus and desire for immediate results. The result is a base of academic literature that has significant gaps. Deficiencies include a lack of empirical studies on crisis leadership, a lack of common terminology, a lack of integration of what is known by different disciplines, an incomplete paradigm of leadership which includes only formal individual leaders and a focus on the needs of immediate disaster/crisis response versus long term recovery and systems learning. The Crisis Leadership Form, hosted by the Center for Creative Leadership was a two day dialogue between formal and informal leaders who played a role in the crisis response and recovery efforts in the gulf coast region after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. This discussion supported the need for an integrated model for crisis leadership and highlighted the need for improved long term recovery strategies, particularly as related to emotional health for leaders. It also drew attention to the paradoxical nature of crises and the tensions that arise from these opposing but truthful realities. Finally, the dialogued modeled an effective way for communities to recover and learn from tragic or key events.

I appreciated the opportunity to be part of this discussion and look forward to future discussions on the topic of crisis leadership. For those interested in learning more about my perspective on this issue, I suggest the following readings:

Arjen Boin, Paul 't Hart (2003) Public Leadership in Times of Crisis: Mission Impossible? Public Administration Review 63 (5), 544–553.

Klann, Gene, Crisis Leadership, CCL, 2004.

Linsky, Martin and Heifetz, Ronald, Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive During the Dangers of Leading, Harvard Business School Press, 2002.

Marcus, Leonard J., Dorn, Barry C., and Henderson, Joseph M. (2005) "Meta-Leadership and National Emergency Preparedness: Strategies to Build Government Connectivity", Working Papers, Center for Public Leadership.

Mitroff, Ian I. Crisis Leadership: Planning for the Unthinkable, Wiley, 2004

Pauchant, Thierry and Mitroff, Ian, Transforming the Crisis Prone Organization, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco. 1992

Leading Before a Crisis

Colonel Tom Kolditz, PhD is Professor and Chair of the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership at West Point, and the author of In Extremis Leadership, Leading as if Your Life Depended on It. He is currently a Visiting Professor at the Yale School of Management. Col. Kolditz was a participant in the Crisis Leadership Forum and offered these comments in response to the report.

The Center for Creative Leadership’s recent forum on crisis leadership, and the subsequent report, Stepping into the Void, represents our nation’s best effort at composing the dynamics of leaders faced with crisis. Beyond the descriptive value of CCL’s work, the report also points readers to performance imperatives for the next crisis they may face—a valuable tool to help organize leader and leadership development to better prepare people for the crises they will inevitably face. I was humbled and moved by the forum, its participants, its goals, and its achievements.

For those who have some experience in matters of life and death, the report will truly resonate. Its finest quality is that ably reflects the blended knowledge of experts, successful, authentic crisis leaders, and leader developers into a marvelously creative product with an evidentiary basis. I find myself rereading the report, envisioning my next serious challenge, and playing through goals, strategies, and outcomes. As I reflect on the value of our collective effort in the forum, it’s clear that every leader bears some responsibility to prepare for crisis, rather than merely react to the next disaster.

Use the report to prepare now. Crises are assumed to be “over the horizon,” but it is all too easy (and wrong) to think and speak about crisis only in reactive terms. For example, in our report, the phrases “during a crisis” or “in a crisis” are used six, and sixteen times, respectively. By contrast, the phrases “before a crisis” or “prior to a crisis” only occurred once (though the phrase “prior to” was quite common in our biographical sketches). The structure of our language and the contents of the report reveal that assumptions about crisis leadership tend to be reactive, rather than proactive. We all hope that our next crisis remains at least a day away.

Yet there is much evidence that what one accomplishes as a leader BEFORE the crisis makes a tremendous difference. That’s the first step in putting a leader above, rather than inside, a crisis. Don’t allow your own emerging framework for viewing crisis leadership to be limited to actions inside the crisis, in the grip of the disaster. The best among crisis leaders don’t have to change when the crisis occurs. For example, Lieutenant General Russ Honore received national acclaim when he arrived in New Orleans in the wake of Katrina and immediately took charge in a colorful, aggressive fashion—and those who know him recognize his actions as typically characteristic of the native Louisianan. Katrina was simply one more important success in the lifetime of life and death challenges undertaken by the experienced Army leader.

People like Lieutenant General Honore, who lead in circumstances where others believe that the leader actions will influence their physical well-being or survival—defined as in extremis leaders—lead every day with the assumption that at some point, the stakes will be life or death. Police officers, firefighters, military leaders, and extreme sport coaches hold the in extremis orientation habitually. Such an orientation is a window to the positive daily leadership habits that best prepare people to lead in the inevitable crisis.

One does not have to be a public service professional to lead every day as if lives depend on it. One of the best examples of in extremis leadership overcoming adversity is the Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) response to the devastation of Katrina. The Gulf Coast disaster is perhaps too often considered an exemplar of failed organizational response. The HCA successfully coalesced its organization, developed a plan, and evacuated patients from Tulane Hospital as the disaster swirled around them.

HCA comprises 170 hospitals, mostly in the Southeast and Southwest United States and in London and Geneva. It manages approximately 5 percent of all hospital care in the United States, including deliveries, surgeries, and transplants. More than $23 billion of revenues flow through it each year. The CEO is Jack D. Bovender, a humble, soft-spoken Nashvillian. He dissected HCA’s recognition and response to Katrina at an October 2006 meeting of leader developers at the Center of Ethical Leadership (COLE Center) at Duke University, where he sits as a member of the board of visitors. Bovender explained that an entity of the size and complexity of HCA was well prepared in terms of planning for hurricanes. Its hospitals had successfully weathered many such storms, sometimes with near-catastrophic damage, but their plans and preparations led to rapid recovery of routine operations. The problem with Katrina (as we all know) was the extensive flooding and attendant lack of communication and transportation infrastructure. The aftermath of Katrina presented Bovender and the leader teams at HCA and at Tulane hospital with, in Bovender’s words, “a whole new paradigm.”

From the leadership perspective, the paradigm shift had to occur throughout HCA, it had to be flexible in order to be effective, and the senior leadership had to make it happen with their own people, with minimal dependency on outsiders. Jack said two things that reflect leadership when lives are on the line: “One of my favorite quotes is from von Moltke [a nineteenth-century Prussian military strategist]: ‘Strategy changes when the first shot is fired.’” Jack’s second comment, which underscores the value of leading daily as if lives depend on it, was, “You can’t change yourself in thirty minutes into something you haven’t been for thirty years.”

Bovender’s comment illustrates the futility of treating crises as isolated incidents, and approaching crisis leadership as a unique “emergency” style instead of an approach to leading on a daily basis. Bovender characterized the unification of the HCA team under the incredibly adverse conditions of Katrina as the result of four elements seen daily in the operations of HCA. Consider how these elements can be built into your own daily operating style:

1. Commitment. The HCA approach during Katrina built on a characteristic value that had been grown in the business over many years: hospitals’ first commitment was to their patients. With that as the guiding value, the right decisions were made at the personal, team, and organizational levels.

2. Empowerment. The HCA response was, in Bovender’s words, “incredibly decentralized and empowered locally.” People understood that they could take action because, he said, it was “easier to beg forgiveness than to ask permission.” Importantly, this extended to actions or communications that may have exposed HCA to lawsuits, especially when it came to telling the truth about problems with the evacuation. Bovender helped set the tone of truthfulness and candor: “I’d rather lose the lawsuit and come out with people respecting me or the institution.” It’s easy to see why HCA found itself on the moral high ground.

3. Responsibility. Bovender and the rest of the leadership at HCA did not wait for governmental assistance or depend on it beyond what was absolutely necessary. They did coordinate with state government for the use of some helicopters and for the use of the Alexandria and New Orleans airports. They not only marshaled an air fleet of more than twenty-four helicopters from various sources, but they heavily augmented the airlift with ground convoys of ambulances and buses, including armed security, some of it rather hastily composed.

4. Communication. Bovender and the leader team communicated as best they could throughout the operation. Because e-mail remained one of the most reliable means of communication, they used the “HCA Everybody List” on a daily basis to keep everyone tied together, communicating, and informed.

Whether you consider yourself a leader now, or whether you will emerge as a leader in the midst of crisis, there is incredible power in the acknowledgement that our world is volatile, uncertain, ambiguous, and sometimes dangerous. If you can discipline yourself to lead every day with that in mind, you and the people around you will be better prepared for your next critical challenge. And as you step into that void, the value of the CCL forum and this incredible report will be realized.