Hemphill describes leadership as, “the behavior of directing the activities of a group toward a shared goal”, (1957). Yukl, describes it as “a process of giving purpose to collective effort to achieve purpose”, (2006). In times of crisis, leadership is more related to a common vision that influences, motivates and guides people to success. Throughout my life I have witnessed many examples of leadership. Each encounter has been a learning opportunity.
The United States’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic is one such learning opportunity. Reactions to a worldwide pandemic require idealized influence and inspirational motivation. Instead our country’s response was defensive and rife with half-truths. At a time that required the moral values of; honesty, loyalty, equality, justice and human dignity, the “greatest” country in the world was treated to a comedic press conference from the Oval Office. Effective crisis leadership comes down to the leader responding to the human needs, emotions, and behaviors caused by the crisis. It took three days before this administration mentioned condolences for family members of the deceased. Instead this administration demonstrated the worst crisis management since the post-crisis blame game we witnessed during Katrina. Instead of resorting to prepared catchphrases and sound bites, the facts should have been thoroughly investigated and truthfully disseminated.
Crisis situations are not new to this country. In past, this country’s leaders have designed and executed our responses to crisis situations. Therein lies the learning opportunities from our current situation. Experience prevails in times of crisis. This implies that the leader themselves has demonstrated and documented experience that has surrounded themselves with competent professionals. Experience provides leaders with a framework that serves as a reference point for understanding how to respond to emergencies.
In dire situations that disrupt normal activities people are looking for a sense of comfort. Leaders effective at crisis management take full responsibility for the situation. President Harry S Truman coined the phrase, “The buck stops here”. As the leader of the country President Truman was responsible for making decisions and the implications of those decisions. That philosophy began a period of growth that lasted more than 20 years.
An effective communication plan is also essential to crisis management. Absent a concise communication plan, stakeholders and community members will turn to other, less credible sources of information. Stocker (1997) found that the majority of costs associated with a crisis come as a result of loss of trust from stakeholders and citizens.
During turbulent times affected persons become concerned about how the crisis will impact them and their loved ones. Leaders that approach individuals with a sense of empathy for their concerns will be much more successful. Social awareness for all the ways in which a crisis impacts businesses, people, and systems involved in the problem increases the likelihood that new implementations will succeed. Harry Truman could teach this administration a thing or two.
Be sure to pick up the March 24th edition of The Observer for updates on the Cesar E. Chavez “March for Justice”.