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Crisis Leadership & Mass Shootings

To me, this image is the most powerful photo from the high school shootings in Florida, a mom, most likely a Roman Catholic who received her ashes earlier in the day is shown both terrified and comforting as she and others attempt to grasp what is unfolding.

How many of you asked yourself something like, “What would I do in a situation like that?” Here are some tips that I have learned over the years in my work as an International Crisis Response Specialist.

Crisis leadership is more about who you are than what you know.

I am deeply saddened and angry over the shooting that occurred yesterday in Florida. In my work as a Crisis Response Specialist, I have been involved in helping people directly impacted by school shootings, workplace violence, and natural disasters. Having lived in my adopted home state of New Mexico, I have seen, smelled, and have sat with victims, survivors, and first responders as they have shared their stories with me. In the days and weeks ahead many of my friends and coworkers in this unique line of work will be doing the same with victims, survivors, families, firemen, law enforcement and other individuals impacted by the horrific event. I would ask that you keep them in your thoughts and prayers also.

Over the next several days, let’s not get caught up in all of the political frenzies of this shooting, instead, let’s talk and listen to each other. Let’s comfort one another, pray with and for each other, and grieve this loss together.

The next portion is part of a training program that I provide business leaders regarding Disruptive Workplace Events. I hope you will take a moment to absorb it, and apply it where you need to.

Strategic Leadership

Strategic crisis leadership involves high-leverage skills that are vital to corporate recovery in the midst of a crisis of any sort. To be a crisis leader, you need to have the following skills:

  • Define the event beyond the obvious
  • Anticipate the impact on stakeholders
  • Assess the effect on core assets
  • Forecast the intended and unintended consequences of decisions
  • Follow the values and guiding principles of the organization and your ethical standards

Basic Components of Crisis Leadership

Three necessary components of leadership:

Be is all about who you are.

Be caring.

Be calmly assertive – when calmness is not maintained in the fast moving a chaotic of a crisis, a combination of frustration and a need to either dominate or avoid will tend to show up.

Know is about the skills and knowledge you have to acquire.

You must have a vision and know the values of your organization for crisis resolution. It is essential to understand your vision, values, and guiding principles of your organization who you are making decisions.

Do is about the actions you take.

With the core vision, values, ethics, and guiding principles of your organization act in a timely and decisive manner.

Keep communication channels open. Listen carefully and accurately, communicate, accurately, and in a timely fashion.

Five Principles of Crisis Leadership

  1. The well being of people first, with care and compassion.
  2. Assume appropriate responsibility for managing the crisis.
  3. Address needs and concerns of all of the stakeholders. (Know who they are)
  4. Make all decisions and actions on honest, ethical and legal guidelines.
  5. Be available, timely, in communication with all parties.

In a nutshell, an effective crisis leader must act deliberately, quickly, efficiently, and ethically with correct and high moral values.

How can you do this? Have a CIA mindset

C – Core assets-people, reputation, finances

I – involved stakeholders – all stakeholders who could be harmed (real and perceived)

A – anticipation – pray it never happens, but prepare as it will

Four ways you will get the news

  • Personally involved
  • Near but not on site
  • Remote from the incident
  • Social Media, which is becoming the new, unfiltered prime source

Four Questions you have to ask as an event unfolds.

  1. What happen?
  2. How bad is it?
  3. What is being done?
  4. What is the potential for escalation?

Psychological First Aid for leaders

  • Account for everyone and assess immediate needs
  • Establish calm and order and minimize confusion
  • Protect personnel from further exposure to traumatic sights and experiences.
  • Make contact with victims, witnesses, and others that might be experiencing traumatic stress reactions. Listen to and assist with their concerns.
  • Help meet needs during the event and the early aftermath-from contacting loves ones to finding lost phones.
  • Maintain timely and open communication.
  • Have a buddy system in place for your leadership team.
  • Your Employee Assistance Team in as your Grief Counselors, they have the training and experience.

Lessons from Church and School-Based Incidents

  1. Police will arrive first, make sure you and your team remember that the police will not know who the good guys or the bad guys are. If you have a weapon, put it down, and make sure your hands are visible and your movements are slow.
  2. Media will be right behind the police. As a good rule of thumb, in the immediate aftermath of an event, say nothing to the reporters, and encouraged those involved in the incident to do the same. As a leader, what you say to the press and the police could be used as evidence in any future legal proceedings. It is wise to have an attorney present during all questioning, both in there immediate aftermath of the event as well as during any later follow up. Only when such legal advice is present should statements be made.
  3. You will be inundated with spectators, media, and family members.
  4. Police and first responders, including trained chaplains will be on the scene relatively quickly. Many states and large hospital teams may be available to help with the immediate crisis. There are also some national ministries and agencies that can provide help.
  5. Media will want “exclusives.”
  6. Way too many helpers will show up. Some who will be appropriate, some who are well-intentioned, and some with hidden agendas, or for personal gain. I have seen all of these in my deployments as a Professional Crisis Response Specialist.
  7. Messages should be timely, factual, strength-based and forward-looking.

I have written this post hoping that you will find it helpful and informative, but praying that you will never need to implement any of it.

Action Plan: Check out these two articles. Putting on Your Psychological Body Armor. 

Healing from the Las Vegas Shootings.

I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section.

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