December 01, 2001
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio December 2001 Current Issue
December 2001 Back to BasicsPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

Back to Basics

By Randy G. Pennington


When an emergency arises, employees depend on calm and effective leadership

A crisis is defined as a turning point, decisive event or crucial situation whose outcome determines whether bad consequences will follow. Think of it as change on steroids. The events of Sept. 11 represent the most dramatic crisis in recent memory. The unimaginable manner in which the attacks were carried out, the scope of the damage and the horror of witnessing the event live generated a global gasp that altered the way we see ourselves and the world around us. As a manager, you might never be asked to lead in a crisis of such horrific proportions. Your crisis might occur during an event, at the office or in your personal life. Regardless of the circumstance, the leader’s challenge is to bring out the best in others to ensure a positive end. Here are some ways to calm fears, respond to the situation and help others move confidently into the future.

The employees who are your responsibility expect more from you during a crisis. They need to feel that their leaders are in control. These expectations of your followers come with the mantle of leadership. To quote Pat Summitt, head coach of the University of Tennessee’s Lady Vols basketball team, “If you don’t want the responsibility, don’t sit in the big chair. That’s the deal.”

Make it safe. A crisis heightens our worries about safety and security. Drive out fear by doing everything in your power to make the situation safe both physically and emotionally. This is the first action you must take and your ongoing responsibility. Individuals will then be able to return to higher-level activities driven by a sense of purpose and strength rather than by fear.

Let reason reign. Emotion must be balanced with reason and logic. Provide a sense of hope, and communicate the reality. Nurture the spirit, but not at the exclusion of achieving necessary results.

Recruit a team. A trusted group of advisers and a contingency plan to get you through the first stages of the response are necessities.

The leader must be visible to bolster confidence and speed the return to normalcy. President Bush’s ultimately coming back to the White House on the day of the terrorist attacks, his live statements and increased contacts with the American people showed that he was in control. Calm and determined, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in New York City sent the same message.

Reach out. If at all possible, be with your employees at a time of crisis. Recognizing the emotions of others and admitting you share those feelings fosters a sense of unity and creates a common bond.

Be selfless. Your most important resources are the skills and commitment of others. Demonstrate that your concern and support are genuine; this is not the time to forward professional self-interests.

People might become distracted because they are worried or preoccupied with the latest news. Unfocused talent, no matter how superior, will not create the sense of urgency you need in a crisis.

Strive for normalcy. Direct individuals to the most important tasks at hand, and watch both spirits and performance improve.

Empower others. Every sincere effort to help people feel more in control of their future will be rewarded with trust and commitment.

Communicate openly. Provide as much timely information as possible. You can be honest and proactive without breaching confidentiality.

Be ready. Sept. 11, 2001, will not be the last crisis we face. Our choice is to lead or to allow the times to define us as less than our potential.

Randy G. Pennington is an Addison, Texas-based consultant, speaker and meetings facilitator (

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