How Not To Lead In A Crisis

Hurricane Season 2017 is a rough one and we technically have two months left. There have been 13 events to date: six tropical storms and seven hurricanes. The worst of them have been Harvey, Irma and Maria, the scourge of Puerto Rico. These hurricanes left Houston submerged for weeks and islands in the Caribbean devastated to the point where it is questionable when, and if, they will return to normalcy. At this very moment, Puerto Rico is showing early signs of a humanitarian crisis with profound long-term implications.

Into such tragedy should step a leader who is focused, resolute and driven by the desire to use his or her extraordinary power and resources to help those in deep need.

We have Donald J. Trump.

Most notably, we have a Twitter-fueled spat between POTUS and the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz. Cruz has been tireless in drawing attention to the dire circumstances in her country. For days after the storm hit, local leaders were trying to understand the scope of the damage and address the most pressing needs from a catalogue of pressing needs. It was analogous to sticking a finger into a leaking dyke. Recently, Cruz has been a go-to for media outlets as she uses her position to describe in clear detail exactly what is needed. She has refused to give up, in spite of mainland debates over allowing relief ships to travel into Puerto Rican ports as well as uncomfortably acknowledging that federal on-the-ground support is woefully under allocated. Her frustration ran over at a press conference yesterday when she said, “We are dying, and you are killing us with the inefficiency and the bureaucracy.”

In turn, Trump took to Twitter this morning to chastise her, citing what he deems poor leadership skills and a perceived turn to nastiness by Cruz merely because the Democrats told her to do so.

C’mon, man.

As John Baldoni, leadership coach and consultant, noted in Harvard Business Review in January 2011, a good leader ensures she understands what is happening during a crisis, acts with appropriate speed, balances control with flexibility and manages expectations. I’d like to add another attribute to Baldoni’s list: a good leader responds with empathy for others and silence about oneself.

In any situation demanding leadership – especially a crisis – it’s about others; what they are facing, what they need, how the leader embodies the right and the good for them, and, as noted above, how the leader uses the expansive resources available to bring these people forward. Being a real leader is not about waving to adoring crowds. It’s about using power for purpose, and nine times out of ten that purpose benefits those outside the leader.

Hurricane Season 2017 is not over. Let’s pray that Maria is the last of the potential devastation, if only to avoid testing our crisis leadership model again.








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