To paraphrase the bumper sticker: Stuff happens. Fortunately, so does good leadership -- but those folks looking for pat solutions to unpredictable situations will be disappointed. First-rate management of a crisis rarely looks the same twice. A case in point from America's military:
But preparation isn't always the hallmark of triumph in a crisis. Experts say it's a mixed bouquet that often contains preparation but also includes blooms of improvisation, good communication, foresight, a willingness to learn, and a commitment to established values. "Effective crisis leadership is really . . . imagining a future that brings you beyond the status quo," says
Contemporary examples of strong crisis leadership are in surprisingly short supply, experts say. And all too often, the reaction to a crisis is to hunker down and ride it out. But there are a few modern standouts, especially in the business world.
Bad medicine. In 1982, a 12-year-old-girl in the
Rather than succumbing to panic, Johnson & Johnson CEO
Within a year, Tylenol had regained more than 80 percent of its market share. Much of the credit goes to Burke and his management team, which decided to stick by the company's core values of putting the customer first -- even if it cost Johnson & Johnson dearly. "Values-driven companies do better in times of crisis," says
Killer chemo. Since its founding in the 1940s, the
A review revealed that a research fellow miscalculated the dosages of highly toxic drugs for the women -- an error that went unnoticed by nurses and pharmacists even as the patients' health deteriorated at an alarming rate for two weeks.
The Globe published a series of damning reports. The state opened an investigation. Dana-Farber's accreditation went from "full" to "conditional," and massive lawsuits loomed. But after a period of hand-wringing , Dana-Farber's management decided to act rather than hunker down. It opened up to the public and tried to build something positive from the tragedy. It spoke candidly about the mistakes, suspended responsible staff, and recommitted itself to quality control and patient care. It upgraded its computer system to alert pharmacists when a doctor prescribes unsafe dosages and invested
More significant, the institute became a high-profile advocate for patient safety throughout the industry. "They realized that, through that mistake, they could become leaders around the issue of patient safety and help their competition become better," says Dufresne, who wrote about the case in the book Positive Psychology in Business Ethics and Corporate Responsibility.
From the ashes. On
Two days after the attacks, a tearful Lutnick appeared on television and vowed that the firm would press on. Furthermore, he promised to care for the families of the employees lost on that day. But in the following days, Lutnick stumbled. He quickly severed the paychecks of the deceased, outraging family members, many of whom still held hope their loved ones were alive. Lutnick took a beating on national TV. But his image, and his company, started to recover when he reached out to victims' families personally.
In the end, Lutnick made good on his promise to reshape the mission of
In the end, federal investigators tallied
The moves worked. Since the first quarter of 2008,
Each of the aforementioned crises called for a different plan of attack. And it should come as no surprise that in some instances, the best course of action is to avoid taking action. Or at least to avoid taking too much action. President
Kennedy's tough decision shows that there might be only one truly defining characteristic of good leadership, and that is knowing what the situation calls for. Good luck figuring that one out.
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The New Orleans masses who huddled in the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina, the Enron retirees who lost their life savings, and the laid-off workers buried under the economic ruin of financial companies all live with a simple truth. Just as spectacularly as great leadership can spark success, failed leadership can bring down cities, businesses, and economies
In the grip of our Great Recession, with more job losses to come, we have yet to fix the broken financial system that is an underlying cause of this whole mess. How can we do it?
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