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Crises are episodes of intense disruption. They are unexpected, sudden, and complex to navigate. Crises can include natural events such as earthquakes or hurricanes and man-made events such as traffic accidents or terror attacks. Crises can also include events such as the unexpected death of a top manager, wildfires, bankruptcies, economic shocks or recessions, corruption and scandals, and global phenomena such as the COVID19 pandemic.
Leaders in government, business, and organizations of all types and sizes are faced with a growing number of crises that require quick and decisive action. Crises can take many forms and can occur at many levels, from the local to the regional to the global. The single most effective strategy for crisis management is preparation. Crisis management expert, Ian Mitroff, suggests the best way to lead in a crisis is to “prepare for all possibilities.” This may be aspirational (and perhaps impossible), but it is clear that preparation, including well-developed plans, trained crisis responders, and practice or simulations, is imperative to surviving crises.
Preparedness programs for natural disasters (e.g., fire, flood, earthquakes), man-made crises (e.g., terrorists, active shooters, work strikes), and financial crises (e.g. banking crises, stock market crashes, bankruptcies), are relatively common in organizations. For example, governments of many nations have units to manage many of these potential disruptions, such as the United States’ Federal Emergency Management Agency and the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations. An effective leadership practice is to anticipate crises and have plans and teams in place to deal with them. The US Department of Homeland Security was created in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attack in order to be better prepared for future crises of that nature. But even the most careful preparation still requires ongoing leadership before, during, and after crises occur.
Having procedures in place and striving for preparedness are crucial to surviving crises, and these are foundational functions of management. However, enacting plans and capitalizing on preparedness in the context of a crises requires intentional, sensitive, responsive, prudent leadership. In the passages that follow, we outline three key leadership challenges presented by crises and offer strategies to address each.
Publication titleSAGE Encyclopedia of Leadership Studies
EditorsGeorge R. Goethals, Scott T. Allison, Georgia J. Sorenson
PublisherSage Publications Ltd
Place of publicationUnited Kingdom