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Crisis Leadership Programs

Once a person has practiced leadership effectively enough to attain the positional authority to lead a crisis response, that leader needs knowledge and skills in five additional areas to help him/her effectively address the leadership challenges of a crisis, namely:

  1. Leading the response to and recovery from a traumatic event
  2. Make decisions quickly in the absence of complete information
  3. Handle a media presence
  4. Deal with legal complexities of emergency response
  5. Assure the ongoing prevention and minimization of a crisis

In public health, we now spend enormous amounts of time and money on emergency planning. We have acquired a great deal of skill to be able to respond to predictable disasters. We are getting good at crisis management, which is quite valuable. Crisis leadership training is about helping leaders to be able to respond effectively when the disaster or crisis does not match that which was planned for. What do you do when you don’t know the nature of the crisis (what organism is making people sick)? When your communication system fails? (The New York City emergency communication system on September 11th was in the World Trade Center.) When you don’t know if your own family is safe? (An earthquake in California destroyed the nearest hospital to the epicenter, as well as the communication and transportation infrastructures in the area). When there is a crisis, and there is no known plan for how to respond, that is when crisis leadership kicks in.


Fundamentals of Crisis Leadership

This brief (one hour) workshop is an orientation to the concept of crisis leadership. It draws on true leadership stories that help to underscore the purpose of the five crisis leadership domains. This overview will help participants to understand the value and meaning of all of the crisis leadership development topics in the series, as well as a contrast with general leadership concepts, and the role of collaboration in crisis leadership.

Topics in this workshop include:

  • What is crisis leadership?
  • How crisis leadership differs from leadership during ordinary times.
  • How it differs from crisis management.
  • What are complex problems?
  • What is collaboration?
  • What is collaborative leadership?
  • Why good leadership is a pre-requisite for good crisis leadership (teamwork, collaboration and trust concerning the other response disciplines)
  • Overview of the five domains of crisis leadership.

Psychological Leadership During Crisis

When leaders find themselves faced with crisis situations, their effectiveness is largely determined by their levels of emotional and social intelligence. The ability to manage one’s emotions, empathize with others and provide clear direction in times of crisis is critical to the success of leaders during emergencies. The framework for understanding emotional intelligence and social intelligence that have been developed by Daniel Goleman and his colleagues, provide an excellent roadmap for helping leaders be more successful in responding to crises. This workshop reviews the concepts of emotional and social Intelligence and helps the participant to create a personalized plan for developing the skills necessary to:

  1. Prepare themselves and their organizations for times of crisis
  2. Manage themselves well prior to, during and after crises
  3. Lead others during these three phases of crisis leadership.

Topics in this workshop include:

  • The concepts of emotional and social intelligence as applied in all phases of a crisis (i.e pre-crisis, during crisis, and post-crisis)
  • Real world examples of highly effective and less effective leadership behavior and emotional/social styles in response to crisis (i.e 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina)
  • Six leadership styles
  • The roles of empathy and resonance in mobilizing and inspiring others
  • Key findings from research on social neuroscience and their implications for leadership behavior during crisis
  • Assessment of participants’ current emotional and social competencies
  • Personalized learning plans to build on strengths and develop new competencies needed to be an effective leader.


Making Decisions During Crisis

The process of decision-making during a crisis situation is made more difficult by three factors:

  1. The need for immediate action
  2. The absence of critical information
  3. The stress placed on the decision-makers.

This training reviews three decision-making models to address these factors: a traditional decision-making model (defining the problem, looking at alternatives, weighing pros/cons, etc.), a values-based model and a crisis management model. The training is based on the premise that people make good decisions when they understand and act on what they believe is important, when they anticipate the consequences of their decisions on others and when they hold themselves accountable for their decisions. To that end, participants will learn how to make good decisions that are whole, coherent and transparent even when time is of the essence and the outcome is life threatening.

Topics in this workshop include:

  • The importance of pre-event relationship building and the development of trust
  • Time as an adversary
  • Asking the right questions
  • Making critical decisions in a vacuum
  • Obstacles to good decisions
  • Considering risks
  • “Groupthink”
  • Conflict
  • Communicating honestly
  • Mitigating downside impacts

Communicating through the Broadcast Media

During a crisis, the ability to effectively communicate through the broadcast media is extremely important, and possibly life-saving. The cameras swarmed Columbine High School before the shooting disaster was over. In the hours immediately before the landfall of Hurricane Rita, the media was the only sign of human life on Galveston Island. If it is a crisis, the media will be there fast. That’s their job. Leaders during a crisis need to know how to control and to best use that media presence to communicate their message to the public and how to craft the message that will be communicated.

The Public Information Officer (PIO), if there is one, may be injured, out of town or otherwise not able to perform at the time of a crisis. The crisis sometimes requires that a senior leader be the person to address the public. Alternatively, sometimes the PIO can handle all of the on-camera needs, but the PIO must have a clear, simple, and important message from the senior leader or other content expert to communicate to the public. Thus, even if the leader of a crisis response is not the person in front of the camera, the leader needs to be involved in determining the message. Participants in the workshop are able to practice under the lights in front of the camera and receive feedback on their communication to the public.

Topics in this workshop include:

  • The message: creating a single over-riding communication objective
  • Media from the reporter’s perspective
  • Elements of the successful interview
  • Body language, wardrobe and appearance
  • Interview pitfalls to avoid
  • Planning for operations and communications in the event of a crisis
  • Building relationships with the media, and media advocacy

The Legal Dimensions of Crisis Response

The leadership challenges faced uniquely or primarily by persons in positions of authority include the challenge of incorporating the law and legal implications of emergency response into the preparation for, response to and recovery from an emergency. Laws and regulations about quarantine, confidentiality, jurisdiction and the powers, roles, responsibilities and liabilities of emergency responders vary from state to state. Emergency response leaders need to know the law in their state as well as in their border states. The relationship between state and federal jurisdictions needs to be understood. Knowledge about the emergency response law can provide vital information that affects decision-making. By learning about the legal consequences of the actions of responders during past crises, leaders can avoid the pitfalls and replicate the successes of their colleagues.

Topics in this workshop include:

  • Emergency powers statutes of specific states
  • Legal definitions of the role of emergency response
  • Confidentiality
  • Jurisdiction
  • Liabilities
  • Experiences of others during previous crises

The Crisis Vulnerability Audit

The crisis vulnerability audit is a proactive approach to preventing and minimizing crises before they occur. In a crisis audit, worst case scenarios are generated and their impacts assessed. The eventual crisis seldom exactly resembles the one prepared for, but planning for the worst conceivable case is important practice for an actual crisis. Typically, the crisis vulnerability audit includes confidential in-depth interviews with members of the organization to uncover hidden vulnerabilities. This workshop results in an understanding of the variety of types of crises that can happen, the phases of a crisis, the systems in an organization that can be subject to crisis and the stakeholder analysis of the affected parties.

It is the responsibility of the crisis leader (i.e. the person with positional authority for emergency preparedness) to assure that the practice of conducting a robust crisis audit is an organizational priority, that the crisis vulnerability audit actually happens, that the results of the audit are acted upon and that the audit process is sustained as an ongoing organizational practice.

Topics in this workshop include:

  • Crisis types and phases
  • Systems assessment and stakeholder analysis
  • Signal detection
  • Crisis preparation
  • Damage containment
  • Operations recovery
  • Blame-free post-event review and learning

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