In the summer issue of the Harvard Business Review, authors Faaiza Rashid, Amy C. Edmondston and Herman B. Leonard describe the necessity of balance when it comes to crisis leadership. They use the 2010 mine collapse in Chile to illustrate their points, emphasizing that leadership happened not only outside the mine, but within it as well. They argue that leaders must inspire hope, but maintain a sense of realism.
In recent weeks, Canadian leaders have been flexing their muscles in this particular arena. From the flooding in Alberta to the explosion in Lac-Mégantic to yet more flooding in Toronto, government leaders on all levels have demonstrated what it means to lead in times of crisis. We have watched them inspire hope in their citizens during times of confusion, fear and loss.
Naheed Nenshi, Calgary’s mayor, has been praised for his response to the crisis in his city. When news of the flood broke, he immediately cut short a trip to Toronto and caught a flight home to Calgary. He spent the next 43 hours directing emergency services, reassuring and advising the public on Twitter, and participating in media scrums to keep the city and the nation abreast of the situation. As a result, he has earned the adoration of Calgary’s citizens, who have likened him to Superman.
In Lac-Mégantic, Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche’s primary concern is the safety and well-being of her people. She has spent much of her time at the Polyvalente Montignac, the local high school, which was transformed into a temporary shelter for displaced citizens after the train disaster that destroyed the downtown core. Similarly, Pauline Marois, Quebec’s Premier, has been on site to ensure that citizens are being cared for. She has also pledged to provide monetary assistance to the town.
In Toronto, while power was out in much of the city, Etobicoke councillor Doug Ford was out directing traffic at Islington Avenue and Dixon Road for four hours. City officials tweeted to keep Torontonians updated on the situation and offer encouragement for emergency workers.
But these leaders also remained realistic, warning their citizens that they faced a tough road ahead and that it would take time for things to get back to normal. Despite Nenshi’s optimism, he has had to be firm with individuals who thought it would be a good idea to go boating on the overflowing river. And in Lac-Mégantic, both Roy-Laroche and Marois haven’t hesitated to demand that those responsible for the accident be held accountable for the town’s devastation. Roy-Laroche has also asked that tourists not abandon their summer plans in the town, so that things can start to get back to normal for its citizens. In Toronto, though officials tried to stay positive, they warned citizens to expect rolling blackouts as the city’s hydro system tried to get the power supply back up and running.
Despite incredible hardship, these leaders have stepped up to the plate to provide guidance, support and encouragement while also keeping their citizens grounded in the reality of the situation.
Have you ever had to lead at times of crisis? What strategies worked for you? Tell us in the comments.