AVOID THE TOP 10 MISTAKES
LEADERS MAKE IN A CRISIS
EMPLOYEE SHOOTING Chemical spill! Product recall! Cyber-technology at- tack! Executive kidnapping! Natural
disaster! Plant bombing! Terrorist attack!
Once reserved within the imagination of a
Hollywood screenwriter or suspense novelist, these kinds of crises now dominate our
daily news headlines. These crisis scenarios
are far too common within our increasingly
complex, stressful and dangerous world.
Surveys show that more of these frightening scenarios frequently weigh on the
forefront of a leader’s mind. Leaders realize that if they are not currently leading
through a crisis, they soon will be. So how
do leaders prepare themselves and their
teams to face a crisis and win? What are
the leadership competencies essential to
successfully assessing risk and navigating through an actual crisis? Rather than
begin with a list of the core competencies
necessary for crisis leadership, let’s look at
the 10 biggest mistakes leaders typically
make during a crisis. Based on these critical,
sometimes life-threatening mistakes, I’ll
Patrick B. Ropella
Chairman & CEO, Ropella
Tel: (850) 983-4777
Patrick B. Ropella is Chairman & CEO of Ropella, the
leading executive search and consulting firm specializing in the chemical and consumer products industries.
Ropella grows great companies through executive
search, leadership transformation and organizational
His new book, The Right Hire - How to Master the
Art of SMART Talent Management, is available at
share the three key competencies for effective risk assessment and crisis leadership.
Mistake 1: Having No Plan
General Dwight Eisenhower, the man
behind the brilliant D-Day invasion plan
that initiated the Allied victory in World
War II, once said,“A plan is nothing; planning is everything.” The most common
mistake leaders make is to have no plan or
template to follow before, during or even
after a crisis occurs. They are unnecessarily caught off guard by an unexpected and
potentially fatal event with no structure or
action plans to follow. Through their lack
of foresight (risk assessment) and proper
pre-crisis planning (crisis drills), leaders
will simply react to a crisis by applying
knee-jerk, shoot-from-the-hip solutions.
During a crisis, a leader must align
three strategic elements: the Goals, the
People and the Resources. The goals define
the“What;” that is, the specific outcomes
and objectives of the crisis intervention.
The people define the“Who,” getting the
right people in the right positions with
the right teams. The resources define the
“How” that the leaders will use as they
apply all the various tangible and intangible resources available to them to meet
the goals. Without such a solid, strategic
alignment between the goals, people and
resources, crisis leadership interventions
are at best futile and at worst disastrous.
Mistake 2: No Hierarchy
One of the most critical aspects of successful crisis navigation is determining and
following a proper hierarchy of executive
and field leadership. Great crisis plans can
quickly crumble through breakdowns in
what under normal circumstances would
be an effective chain of command. Even
leaders with a pre-set crisis action template often fail to align the goals, people,
and resources necessary to win during the
crisis. When the stress and pressure of a
crisis hits, something as simple as a basic
“Call Down List” of whom to call, what
is their responsibility, and how to reach
them (cell number, email, text) is critical.
Additionally, leaders must effectively
handle the“clashing egos” that so quickly
appear during a crisis. Known to crisis
leadership experts as the“Alexander Haig
Syndrome,” a well-meaning person who
improperly assumes control often does far
more damage than good. Such confusion
can be eliminated with a well thought-out and communicated crisis hierarchy
of command that is discussed and clearly
understood before a crisis occurs.
Mistake 3: Being Invisible
A leader can only be in one place at one
time. Yet leaders who hide or appear removed from the crisis negate their perceived and expected leadership actions.
Visibility must be delivered during and
after the crisis in four areas: colleagues
(crisis team and employees), customers,
constituents (vendors, stockholders, suppliers) and communities (cities served, local and national media).
Remember how New York City Mayor
Rudy Giuliani acted during and after the
chaotic time of the 9/11 terrorist attack?
His multiple daily media appearances
along with his hands-on approach in face-to-face meetings with many departments
gave all New Yorkers (and the world) the
necessary calm we all needed in seeing a
visible leader at the helm.
Mistake 4: Not Listening
A vital skill leaders must leverage during
crisis is comprehensive listening. They must
set aside their egos and be willing to listen
to all parties involved. Only through powerful listening can a leader build the right
environment of openness, trust and professionalism necessary to navigate everyone
through the crisis. Even the simple act of
taking notes (or even assigning a full-time