Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Leadership in a Crisis (plus other Crises just for kicks)

After an extended weekend bogged down with a pesky stomach bug, work carried over from a hectic workweek, and the usual weekend activities it seemed natural for me to spend a bit of time today talking about leadership in a crisis. Especially since some people had a much harder weekend than I did. As a side note I did find out why Twitter is referred to as a microblogging site - you had a better shot of hearing from me via that venue then on this one the last few days.

Why leadership in a crisis? I believe anyone can be a leader at some point in their lives (Caveat: I don't write books on leadership so give me a break for a little while as I get going on this one.) but its the rare group of individuals that can do so in a crisis. Even fewer can do so "successfully" in a crisis. I spent a good bit of my college years in the Army Reserves and ROTC so I've always had an appreciation for the way the military approaches this concept and I believe the American public in general has confirmed that over the history of our country. Leaders can be taught and trained to be better leaders but it still takes something extra to do it well when the bullets start flying at you (literally and figuratively speaking.)

Today President Barack Obama has a whole lot of crises circling "Chocolate City" (no offense intended - just wanted to pull off a semi-relevant reference to "Talk to Me", the Bootsy Collins "Unsung" episode, and the Obama/MLK Day interview in a 24 hour span on TVOne). Let's rattle off just a few:
  1. Health care/Social Security reform
  2. Iraq/Afganhistan/Where in the World is Osama bin Laden
  3. The Recession (with a capital R)
  4. ...and now we've added Haiti.

Could we handle those crises if we were in those shoes? It's easy for us to play Monday Morning Quarterback with our favorite sports teams but when lives are at stake its much harder to look ourselves in the mirror and say we can do better. If I'm right very few could do so and be honest with themselves. The closest some of us will come is to be in a position similar to this exercise I wrote about in an earlier post.

My point here is not to defend the actions that the US government is taking in Haiti this point - they've done some good things and not so good things so far and they'll probably do more of the same over the next few weeks. My point is that at least we are in a position to ask and hold our leaders accountable for this crisis (while other crises eat up some of our time and energy) - imagine what it would be like if we didn't have any decent candidates to fill those shoes?

Let me know what you think in the Comments section. Also, if you haven't done so and are able please do what you can to support Haiti. You can go here to donate to one of the groups you favor most or click on the earthquake response banner that's now up on the right side of the blog.

Image courtesy of US Navy

1 comment:

  1. Giovsnni, I linked from Amanda Ripley's site to this blog. I think you may be missing an observation that many have made and do not discuss, as it is useless. Pleas for assistance to Haiti that deny that reality are likely to fall on deaf ears, as those observers will also likely feel they're coming from a source that has poor assessment skills and lacks credibility. My own meager contribution--as a senior with a drastic loss of income over the past few years--was a response to someone whose appeal did not deny accountability on the part of the Haitians themselves for just about everything that's wrong with their society but touched that part of us that transcends judgment of the merit of the need and looks at the community of mankind.

    Personally, I've worked in devastated areas and have been in more than one life-and-death situation, so I feel I have a good idea of my own response, and I think it's unfair to assume readers are all complacent, with comfortable lives and without empathy.

    The reality is that no other country responds to disaster--except probably Somalia--with the callous indifference to life exhibited by the Haitians. Following the disasters in China, Pakistan, Mexico, and Indonesia, not one county demonstrated the vioence and disorder of Haitian behavior--so to try to attribute this to response to severe disaster contradicts experience. People are not so stupid as to think that the violence in New Orleans was a demonstration that US citizens can behave in the same way, given the large Haitian population of NO.

    I've worked with mulatto Haitians who were indistinquishable in their behavior from any nationality--and compassionate beyond the norm, and Haitians without education who were ruthless at a level that no other poor population has demonstrated. Anyone who has experience working or socializing with Haitians is aware of this. They may rationalize and minimalize it due to the country's background, or they may know it's politically dangerous to appear anything but sympathetic--and many of the Haitians I've known exploit both reactions. TBC in second post.