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.

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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Before a Clear and Present Danger

The catchphrase “clear and present danger” is a call to arms; a rallying cry that says action is needed now. While quickly reacting to a “clear and present danger” is essential, a truer challenge is to see the danger before it becomes clear or present. Because when a crisis is clearly so it may be too late to do much to avert the danger, only to respond as best possible.

At a presentation at the Organizational Science Winter Conference in February, 2008, Lt. Col. Sean Hannah of West Point offered that in preparing for extreme events the US military looks for strong and weak signals. While the former may be thought of those that are clear, present, or imminent, spotting meaningful weak signals can best help us avert a crisis.

Monitoring weak signals, interpreting them, and building scenarios to envision and prepare for what we’d do in various contingencies is a complex art. On the March 30, 2008 edition of Meet the Press, General Michael Hayden, CIA Director, explained why the intelligence community misread the signals from Iraq and how they’re working to do better.

MR. RUSSERT: You were not at the CIA on September 11th, 2001 and the successive months after that. You were at the National Security Agency. But looking back at what the American people were told about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, was there a colossal intelligence failure?

GEN. HAYDEN: Yeah, we got it wrong. All right? And although I wasn't at the CIA, I was in the room when that National Intelligence Estimate was approved by the community--it wasn't just a CIA document--and frankly, Tim, I voted yes. It was my belief that what we were saying in that document was correct.

MR. RUSSERT: Why did you get it wrong?

GEN. HAYDEN: Lots of reasons. This, this has certainly been gone over by whole generation of American intelligence officers. There are a couple of narratives. I can suggest a few to you right now. Number one, maybe momentum in terms of what we knew about Iraq, what we had learned about Iraq. And even though our more recent reporting had been very thin, we still kind of carried the old conclusions forward without, frankly, holding them up enough to the light in order to see whether or not they were still valid. I, I'll tell you this. I've seen since then, I've seen estimates that we've had with high confidence turn to medium confidence. And I'd say to our... "Why is that now medium confidence? Nothing's changed." And, and the answer is, "Yes, but the information on which it has been based has aged off, and therefore we're reducing our confidence level." So we've gone to school on this.

There is much to be learned from the work of intelligence communities, the field of strategic thinking, the approaches of breakthrough innovation, and to those who manage diplomatic relations. The latter – the focus on relationship building – is key because insights must be coupled with the capability to act collectively in uncertainty. And that may be every bit a challenge as reading the signs itself.

1 comment:

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