When disaster strikes, when business continuity tips over into discontinuity, then crisis management begins. How senior managers handle a crisis may determine whether an enterprise survives or collapses. How those senior managers handle themselves at the same time can significantly affect the trust, confidence and levels of motivation of the people around them. So what is the best way to behave? Staying calm and collected has its virtues. Leaders who yell at their teams and appear out of control are less likely to steer their organisations or themselves back to normal operations. But playing it too cool can be a problem too.
Sometimes people need a few theatricals. Films at the cinema succeed or fail by the number of ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ they get from their audience. The same thing is true of leadership, and even more so in crisis situations. Presidential styles in the United States have been compared on this basis. Barack Obama today often presents the calm and collected face of leadership, but has been criticised for delaying more emotional involvement for too long. George W. Bush in the presidency before knew the value of a more personal touch, like standing on the rubble of the World Trade Center buildings with a bullhorn to call out his support of the rescue workers.
And sometimes leaders themselves need to get more involved and in a sense take things more personally. A calm and collected approach may be hiding avoidance or a difficulty in coming to terms with the crisis. Reasons for this may lie in the past events that were traumatic and that the person in charge is still trying to bury. On the other hand, leaders who get involved engage in ‘processing’ the crisis, rather than avoiding it. They get a greater feeling of being able to manage and resolve the crisis, instead of being driven by it. Just like human body temperature of 37 °C or 98.6 °F, there is the right ‘temperature’ of involvement for crisis management too – neither too hot nor too cool.