Leading Through Crisis

“In a moment of crisis, reactions set the leaders apart from the followers” – Peter B. Stark

Dr. Robert C. Chandler, Professor of Communication and Director of the Nicholson School of Communication at the University of Central Florida (UCF), leads the Center for Crisis Communication. From a survey regarding crisis response, he recorded the top 14 positive traits of good crisis or contingency team leaders.

As you read through these traits, think about the way you lead. Do you qualify? If you are in charge of appointing leaders, who fits this profile?

A good crisis or contingency team leader should be:

  1. Coordinated: He or she should have the ability to create team cohesion, team coordination and integration.
  2. Decisive: An effective leader should be able to make the right decisions during contingencies. Any inappropriate hesitation or reluctance to act undermines effective leadership.
  3. Experienced: Crisis leaders should have plenty of field experience to draw upon. If everyone is a newcomer, it is imperative that the training regimen include plenty of mock drills, simulations and hands-on training to increase the experience level of the designated leader.
  4. Goal-Oriented: Effective leaders are skillful in laying out short- and long-term goals, setting specific objectives, making task assignments to meet those goals and following through to achieve them.
  5. Able to Communicate: Leaders provide and solicit key information, engage in two-way communication, and interact in open and honest ways with others in a wide variety of contexts and situations.
  6. Able to Facilitate: Effective leaders facilitate input from others, creating a situation in which the team makes decisions in a collaborative manner.
  7. Able to Handle Stress: An effective leader has the capacity to remain calm, stable and focused during the most chaotic periods.
  8. Able to Listen: It is imperative that leaders be good and active listeners, with the capacity to digest a large amount of information and different perspectives.
  9. Open-Minded: An effective leader is willing to “think outside the box” when considering solutions to contingency situations and has the ability to interpret and understand different ways of looking at an event.
  10. Responsible: An effective leader takes ownership of and responsibility for the resolution of a contingency and ensures that the whole team gets recognition.
  11. Able to Prioritize: Effective leaders have a sense of balance to recognize what issues need to be tackled first and which ones are most important to resolving other decisions and solutions.
  12. Able to Think Critically: A leader should have the capacity to define, analyze and understand the unique complexities of each crisis and envision both the intended and unintended consequences of each solution.
  13. Adaptive: An effective leader should have the capacity to adapt and respond to unique aspects of crises and changing circumstances.
  14. Trained and Prepared: Effective crisis leaders must be thoroughly knowledgeable of the organization’s contingency plans and recovery operations, and must also be knowledgeable of the skills, capabilities and traits of his or her team members.

** Information from a survey conducted by Dr. Robert C. Chandler, Professor of Communication and Director of the Nicholson School of Communication at the University of Central Florida (UCF), 


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