When I worked in corporate America, I had many sleepless nights waiting to see the first headlines of the day as my employer was often the subject of less-than-flattering news. By the time I got to the office, senior executives were running around like their head was on fire – like that would be helpful. Sadly, managing the crisis du jour often was determined by what the media said or didn’t say on the morning news, which became exhausting. After a few of these, I finally realized what a bad crisis management strategy that was and changed my ways.
Today’s crisis situations can change by the hour. A politician is caught doing something stupid; a company unexpectedly files for bankruptcy; a community leader is busted; a natural disaster strikes – the list of potential crises is endless. Recent research shows that the traits of a good crisis manager just happen to coincide with the traits of a good leader, not a surprising thought and maybe a heads up for those making decisions about leadership positions.
In a 2011 Fortune article called What Makes an Ideal Crisis Manager?, Justin Menkes, author of Better Under Pressure, concludes that the people who are going to thrive in the future “are those who can use the pressure (of a crisis) to excel and who have translated very difficult circumstances into opportunity.”
According to the article, the three key characteristics of a good leader and crisis manager are:
* Realistic optimism. Exceptional leaders demonstrate an ability to understand the actual circumstances of a crisis and see a chance to excel.
* Finding order in chaos. This combines calmness, clarity of thought and a drive to fix the situation. It requires practice to stay clear-eyed and fearless when the world is tipping. It also requires zeal to solve a puzzle by engaging your staff.
* Subservience to purpose or corporate goals. The commitment to the higher calling or the greater good can make a huge difference. By encouraging a team to come together around some important goal, it cultivates tenacity and encourages collaboration.
Some execs will still run around with their head on fire as they can’t help themselves, which makes a crisis communications plan all the more important. However, those managers who prove themselves to be exceptions to the rule by working well under pressure will survive – and thrive.
What other traits are there of a good crisis manager and leader?