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.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Organizing chaos: Crisis management in the wake of Hurricane Katrina

The organizational challenges faced by the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in New Orleans during and after the Hurricane Katrina crisis are chronicled and discussed in the recently published abstract, Organizing chaos: Crisis management in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. In this case study authors Tracey Rizzuto and Laura Maloney provide practical and theoretical suggestions for how organizations and organizational psychologists can learn from the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe.

In the abstract the authors provide five important learning to help organizations prepare for future crises:

  1. Plan beyond organizational boundaries. Part of an organization’s response plan needs to take into account the impact outside influences will have on implementing the plan. “Proactive planning should strive for maximal self-sufficiency while limiting dependence on external entities for vital services.”

  2. Develop and exercise crisis contingencies. When forming internal crisis management teams it is important to establish a structure where the labor is divided and responsibilities are aligned with the daily operational structure. Plans should be exercised and evaluated periodically to stimulate feedback and improve learning.

  3. Embed leadership throughout the organization. Embracing a concept of shared leadership rather than top-down leadership may be more beneficial in a crisis. “Reliance on a formal leader for direction, motivation, and action could slow an organization’s ability to respond.”

  4. Invest in employee-employer commitment. Trust is a key component in facilitating communication, collaboration and decision making. “Building and strengthening relational bonds among employees can enhance communication during times of change and can foster commitment and social support that makes employees more resilient to crisis.”

  5. Build a culture that can readily adapt to change. Developing an internal culture that embraces change as an opportunity rather than a threat will enhance the employees’ ability to remain flexible and respond effectively in times of crises.

Many of these lessons relate closely to what we learned from the Crisis Leadership forum. Near the conclusion of the forum, participants attempted to distill the cascade of conversations into a series of key insights about crisis leadership. The following five lessons topped the list:

  1. Forge relationships.
  2. Develop flexibility.
  3. Encourage courage.
  4. Empower people at the grassroots.
  5. Engender inclusive leadership.

The abstract, published in the February edition of Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, can be purchased through the American Psychological Association.

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