The Be, Know, and Do of Crisis Leadership

The MHA Consulting Team

This post has been updated. It was originally published in August 2009. 

During a crisis, management and leadership are crucial to a successful outcome. Consider the triad of BE, KNOW, and DO as a way to improve your crisis leadership capabilities.

As a member of a Crisis Management Team, you are a steward of the core assets of your organization.  Core assets include, but are not limited to: people, brand image, finances, shareholder value, and business operations. You are responsible for more than the management of the crisis. You must be prepared to respond to a crisis situation with crisis leadership.

Crisis management is best defined as the short-term tactical aspect of dealing with an event, while crisis leadership is the long-term strategic component.  We find most teams can handle the management aspect, but need help in developing the leadership component.

For the purposes of illustration, we will use a building relocation resulting from an employee opening a potentially hazardous package.

BE involves being caring and compassionate, displaying a high level of character at all times and having emotional self-regulation.

In any crisis event, the safety of people should be your highest priority. In our scenario, employees’ stress will be heightened. Their concerns will not be on business issues, but on their families. Acknowledging and truly caring about individuals will go a long way in showing true leadership.

Given the stress staff may be experiencing, their responses to the situation may not be normal or professional. As a leader, your ability to demonstrate emotional maturity and control will provide support and stability to everyone else. Do not take comments personally, but respond with empathy.

KNOW involves having the right short-term and long-term vision, knowing your stakeholders and their expectations, and understanding the context (e.g., natural disaster, one or many companies affected, etc.) in which the event has occurred.

In our scenario, the short-term vision may be to ensure that human impacts are minimized and operations continue as normally as possible. The long-term vision would be minimizing brand impact and ensuring customers are not lost due to the service impact. Consider internal and external stakeholders – internal being all levels of your staff, and external being your customers and vendors. Internal stakeholder concerns are for safety, business operations, and financial impacts. Customer concerns may be for service needs or ordering product they may need for their operation, while vendor concerns may be about receiving timely payments. External stakeholders may not understand your crisis or have patience with your efforts to deal with it. It is not their problem and they may look to other providers for service.

DO involves timely communications to our stakeholders in concert with a leadership style that fosters teamwork, gains consensus and buy-in, and facilitates prioritization and executive decision making in a timely manner.

All stakeholders will want communication. They will not want to feel like information is being withheld. In our example, your failure to communicate would allow social media to drive your story. Information (and rumors) from employees and others will be on social media within minutes of your crisis occurrence.

Use the concepts of Be, Know, Do to guide your response during a crisis event. Your internal and external stakeholders will look to you during a crisis. It is up to you to be prepared to lead.

Recovery Strategycrisis management team