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.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Leaders, Communities Brace for Gustav’s Landfall

To many along the United States’ Gulf Coast, it must seem like déjà vu. Almost three years ago to the day, Hurricane Katrina slammed into the coastlines of Louisiana and Mississippi, resulting in the loss of more than 1,800 lives and $80 billion in property damage. Now, Hurricane Gustav is set to make landfall near New Orleans tomorrow afternoon. And thousands of that city’s residents are evacuating, heeding a mandatory order to do so.

We all hope, of course, that Gustav’s impact will be less severe than expected and that preparedness efforts will reflect lessons learned painfully during and after Katrina. That remains to be seen, but it’s certain that people will critically compare crisis leadership efforts during the next few days with actions taken three years ago.

One theory of leadership, complexity leadership theory, seems particularly appropriate for discussing leadership during crises. The theory builds upon the idea that organizations are complex adaptive systems in which change is continual and organizational members continuously affect structures within the system through interaction and the process of sensemaking. This is an overly simplistic explanation, but the most relevant point here is that leaders within this theoretical framework act as enablers rather than controllers, and they manage words more so than they manage people.

With that in mind, it will be interesting to see how leaders respond to Hurricane Gustav—how they enable or hinder preparation and response efforts, and how they communicate with their many constituents. In the meantime, we hope for the best while bracing for the worst.

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