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.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Wisdom of the Ages for Timless Challenges

Jack Covert and Todd Sattersten in Learning from the Heroes in Harvard Business Review observe that the core challenges we struggle with are the perennial ones echoed in Joseph Campbell's "hero's journey:"

"Like Hercules, Luke Skywalker, and Jack Welch, we all struggle with five recurring challenges as we journey through work and life: We wander without knowing where we’re going. Data and circumstances confuse us. Fear blocks us from acting. Change paralyzes us. And despite our best intentions, we talk more than we listen."

They find that these challenges surface repeatedly in the business literature:

"An examination of business writing from the past 30 years shows that these challenges emerge again and again—and the best books offer simple yet profound lessons for overcoming them: Find a clear purpose. Be aware that past experience and a mass of information can interfere with wise decisions. Maintain a bias toward action. Be open to change. Seek feedback."

These nuggets of wisdom -- to take swift action but be open to feedback and frequent course corrections -- make much sense in crisis situations where desired outcomes are clear ... but the path there may be anything but obvious.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Creativity or Destruction: Choices in the Storm of 2009

The economic downturn ripping through the business world is tearing down some organizations and gutting others. David Hurst, in a column in The Globe and Mail, draws on lessons learned from the 1982 recession to offer some sage counsel on what's at stake and what can be gained:

"The sudden change in economic fortunes has given organizations an unexpected opportunity to show their true colours. And their people are watching. It is a challenge that will test the boilerplate on corporate values in countless annual reports and set every organization's tone for years to come. Will the stories to be told of the Crash of '08 and the ensuing recession reaffirm your organization's values or will they tell of cold actions that contradicted the warm words crafted in happier times?"

He indicates that there is need to balance managing costs with managing the toll on people. Leaders must engage at human level:

"Don't underestimate the power of face-to-face communication: Trust is at a premium and nothing reaffirms and creates it like sitting down with people, especially over a meal. Get in front of your clients, suppliers and resource providers. Talk to your people in town halls and other venues."

He also states that it is a time to be flexible and open to change:

"Address the key issues with cross-functional, cross-organizational teams comprising people from all over the organization and who are capable of handling a variety of challenges. De-emphasize the formal organization. Line managers are often best left off the teams to run their operations. Include “young Turks” and perennial malcontents from the fringes of the organization to send a powerful message of change."

This advice – to open up the lines of communication and create open space for new growth – runs counter to the path that many organizations opt for in a crisis. David's perspective – expressed in books such as Crisis & Renewal – is that a crisis is an opportunity for organizations to get back to their innovative roots and reconnect with the processes of creativity, learning, and experimentation that brought them to life.