Leading an organization is an experience that is both rewarding and trying. While it may be easy to follow a schedule and conduct business as usual on most days, managers are much like anyone else when disaster strikes: They become afraid. Whether individuals are faced with catastrophes that are natural or man-made, everyone has different coping strategies, but these events can thrust those directing an organization into a unique position. Despite their personal anxieties, they must continue guiding their staff. In emergency situations, the quality of an individual’s leadership development truly shines through.
Keeping a few simple pieces of advice in mind, managers can prove themselves as effective and compassionate decision-makers even during crises.
In an article for the Harvard Business Review, Karen Firestone, the president and CEO of Aureus Asset Management, explained that when it comes to disasters, great leaders must be prepared to give their employees leverage to make their own decisions. As an example, she noted that if a hurricane warning is made, companies should advise their workers to weigh their options and choose whether to come to work. She pointed out that forcing staff to come into the office in the midst of a storm could not only prove unsafe, but it could be unproductive. Nervous and distracted employees are unlikely to perform at their highest level.
Several years ago, Firestone said that she had a stalker. After the man got past the building’s security one day, she thought the the legal sanctions imposed upon him for his actions were enough to keep everyone safe in the future. However, Firestone’s employees did not feel as confident. Instead, they wanted to use the incident to improve the office’s security systems. Firestone said that she decided it was most important for her employees to feel safe at work, so she invested in the changes needed despite the monetary cost. This kind of empathy paired with a willingness to take action shows staff that they are valued and helps them feel at ease.
According to a separate Harvard Business Review article, it is critical for leadership development to emphasize a manager’s ability to quickly adjust to changing circumstances. The source explained that when a sudden occurrence changes the game, organization directors need to remain calm and remember that in many cases, their first response to a situation isn’t going to be the final one. Few crises are predictable, and a leader must take in new information on an ongoing basis while keeping his of her employees’ needs in mind.
By focusing on addressing risk in a malleable and people-focused manner, organizations may be able to come out of disasters safely and with employee trust intact.