Leadership in a Time of Crisis

Following a couple of weeks of exhausting turmoil we need to step back and put our organizational and personal lives into perspective.  The horror of the attack on America certainly caused each of us to reflect on what is important in our lives.  The revitalization of our national spirit seems to be one blessing amidst the devastation and tragedy of the unbelievable losses that so many have experienced. The infiltration of the destructive cancer, of hate and anger, has penetrated not only our “USA body” but the “World body” as well.  This is like being diagnosed with a disease that has no clear treatment, much less a cure.

To surgically remove the original site of the cancer certainly does not eliminate the problem, and runs the risk of damaging healthy non-cancerous tissue.  The treatment is long-term, difficult, and will likely be painful, physically, emotionally and financially.  The results are not going to be readily seen.  The new sites of the cancer’s infiltration cannot be determined at the present time, and will likely show up unexpectedly and possibly in destructive ways again.  What do we do?  How do we respond?  Who will have the courage to make the frightening decisions?   

The recent agonizing times have brought devastation to the physical symbols that represented our investment in freedom, human dignity, and world unity.  Yet, despite the fading visible remains of the crumbled icons that we treasured (and the severe loses given up with them), we have emerged with greater spirit and resolve than has been felt or seen for a long time.  Why have we been able to endure the pain and hardship?  What gives us this desire to pick ourselves up and move forward with even greater strength?  A major reason is LEADERSHIP.  We have the right and responsibility to be proud of our history of great leaders who have led the way to FREEDOM and INDEPENDENCE.  Now, once again, a crisis forces leaders to emerge. 

Most recently President George W. Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, New York State Governor George E. Pataki, the brave firefighters, police officers, and rescue workers, among numerous others, have risen to the cause and task at hand.  The fear, pain and varied threats have failed to detour the firm commitment to lead with spirited, prayerful and positive resolve. 

As in the attack on America, LEADERSHIP mobilizes the support necessary to refocus our minds and direct action in an organized manner.  With the economy experiencing an exhausting struggle, along with the recent demands taxing our financial (and other) resources, LEADERS need to resist the temptation to give up.  LEADERS always look for the way out of a crisis.

 Is your business or organization struggling?  Have the finances been drying up?  Have you lost valuable personnel?  Have you found it necessary to cut back and contain the continuously rising costs?  I would find it surprising if most of us have not endured many recent economic problems.  Nevertheless, the question for most leaders is not how to manage success but how to win the battle when a crisis rears it’s ugly head.


Who leads?
How do leaders become leaders?
What do leaders do in a crisis?
Are you a leader?


John Kotter of Harvard Business School, in a recent presentation, highlighted the behavior of Robert Kennedy, as an example of leadership in a crisis.  He spoke of the day when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.  On the evening of the crisis, most of America was viewing the demonstrations of violence that were elicited in the Afro-American communities.  The rage was spilling over into the streets.  The chaos caused the canceling of most speeches by politicians due to the threats of inciting more anger and disruption.

Robert Kennedy was prepared to give a speech in a major US city that night.  He was advised to stay inside and avoid the enormous risk of speaking to a crowd of potentially very hostile people who were venting the rage of having lost the most prominent national leader of the civil rights movement; the religious leader who was shot and killed speaking of love, peace and interracial cooperation.  What did this leader do?  He refused to retreat and avoid dealing with the crisis.  He demanded that his staff prepare for the speech.  The tension built as the time approached when Mr. Kennedy would step out in front of the angry crowd. 

Robert Kennedy then appeared.  Casting aside the speech that was prepared, he spoke from the heart.  He apologized for the inability of many Americans to understand or accept the appeals of Dr. King for peace and dignity.  He acknowledged the tragedy and reaffirmed his dedicated commitment to the cause, that the great leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., had just sacrificed his life for on that very day. 

Robert Kennedy accepted the reality of the situation and spoke openly about the right of the community to be outraged.  He too, he said, was saddened and angered by the tragic death of this special leader.  He did not fight the anger, but embraced the anger being expressed.  He too was angry.  However, in the true leadership style, he found a way to make an important point. In a crisis like this it is normal to feel the pain and rage, however, it is not only contrary to the life of Dr. King, it is damaging to the cause he stood for, to go to the streets and cause harm and devastation upon the community and many innocent people. 
The speech had prevented the rebellion experienced in nearly every large city in America.  This is the leadership that our country was founded upon. This is the leadership we now need to rebuild pride and economic stability.





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