The Art of Crisis Leadership

April 13, 2020
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By Rob Weinhold with Kevin Cowherd

Who is naïve enough to think they will never experience a crisis? Like an artist paints a still life picture that gives the viewer a deeper insight to beauty, Weinhold  & Coward highlight crisis situations through accounts of real people and actual events for the reader to extract a deeper wisdom.

Starting with his own young cop-on-the-beat experience, Weinhold describes a personal experience and life lesson, “when a crisis occurs, no matter how traumatic the event, everyone needs to understand his or her role and stay in their own lane.” Then he relates the example to leadership and worldwide corporations pertinent to the present. The book proclaims from the start that “leadership is an art, not a science” and then throughout unfolds the skills for artful crisis leadership.

Each chapter describes people we relate to in their crisis, how they responded, and the lessons we can learn at the end of chapter “Key Takeaways”.

Diagnosing Volkswagen’s “Dieselgate” reveals how crisis occur: their timing, the players, the impact and the potentials for recovery. The personal catastrophe of Maryland’s top crime fighter, Ed Norris, illustrates crisis leadership skills that many of us may have missed.

Poor crisis management has its pages, too. The Baltimore shooting of Freddie Gray calamity revealed how poorly managed catastrophes produced widespread, deep pocket losses.  The Virginia Tech shooting exposed how poor preparation, training and lack of seriousness can be fatal. One of the book’s takeaway lessons is to “create the organizational muscle memory that saves lives,” and later gives the example of that strong “muscle” through the skilled emergency landing of flight 1549 into the Hudson River.

While we may have little control over the fact that crises hit us, we do have power over how we recover.  When exemplary player, Ray Rice, embarrassed the Baltimore Ravens the game became recovery, recovery, recovery. Weinhold  and Coward’s advice, “As a very visible and influential sports property that initially fumbled on the Rice issue from a crisis leadership standpoint, the league can be an even stronger anti-violence advocate for women with the appropriate leadership will.”

The Art of Crisis Leadership elaborates on “reputation elasticity” with the examples of Starbucks, Google and Amazon and quotes wisdom from Warren Buffet.  The chapter describes crisis-prone industries, consumer relationships and reputation capital.

As the Dutch artists mastered lighting in their otherwise very dark paintings, Weinhold  and Coward uncover the rays of forgiveness that can be brought forth from the murky shadows of grave mistakes. “Americans are very forgiving, as long as they know the person looking for forgiveness is truly contrite.”  The authors warn in Key Takeways, “ If you don’t mean it, don’t apologize,” they then devote a chapter to elaborating on the art and impact of apology.

In the times that we are in with impending major changes building a crisis management muscle is really a wise decision.

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