What type of person makes the best crisis or "Tiger team" leader? Pepperdine University conducted an extensive survey of crisis management experts and found 14 traits. In fast paced business environments, where every day can seem like a crisis, the skills of professional crisis managers may offer some insight into who should be leading in the office.
Contingency team and crisis management team leaders are highly specialized employees. They must possess both technical expertise and teamwork skills. During emergencies and crises, the demand on their skills is intense; contingency management and disaster recovery typically involve functioning despite time constraints, high stress, inadequate decision frames, and the necessity to carefully complete critically important tasks far beyond the duties of the day-to-day workplace tasks team leaders typically perform. The factors that make an employee or manager effective in routine task performance may not make for a good crisis manager or recovery team leader. What arethe attributes of an effective crisis (“Tiger”) team leader? What sort of person, with what types of training and skills, represents the best type of individual to lead a contingency team in a crisis?
To explore these questions, over one hundred crisis managers were asked to complete a survey questionnaire on crisis leadership factors. The survey asked these experts to think about leaders with whom they had worked, either on a crisis team or as part of a crisis situation. The respondents were asked to provide examples of both “very good” and “very bad” leadership factors. These survey respondents represented a wide international selection with a diverse range of crisis management expereince, including law enforcement, security, corporate aviation industry, and governmental agency crisis managers with many years of crisis management and contingency team leadership experience. Their backgrounds ranged from law enforcement emergency responses, hostage situations, public relations and corporate reputation disasters, military combat experiences, natural disaster recovery operations, technological crises, IT systems disasters, financial/banking contingencies, and public emergencies, including instances of civil unrest.
Their responses provide a sketch of an effective leader with 14 traits. The results also suggest that increased effectiveness correlates with possession of more of these traits and skills. Consider these when selecting your team leaders and designing management training programs.
The value of a seasoned veteran’s experiences is clearly indicated as a factor for effective leadership. Look for actual hands-on experience. If everyone is a newcomer, it is imperative to establish a training regimen which includes plenty of exercises, simulations and hands-on training to increase the experience level of the designated leader.
2. Trained and Prepared
The value of addressing leadership as a development and training goal was clearly endorsed in this survey. To be effective, one must be prepared for the role of leader by being thoroughly knowledgeable of the organization’s contingency plans and recovery operations; however, the leader also should be knowledgeable of the skills and capabilities of the team members traits and the overall purpose, function, responsibilities, and boundaries of the team.
3. Clear Communicator
Leaders provide and solicit key information, engage in two-way communication, and interact in open and honest ways with others. They have the ability to communicate clearly and completely, with few misunderstandings, in a wide variety of contexts and situations.
4. Empathic Listener
It is imperative that leaders be good, active listeners, with the capacity to digest a large amount of information from different perspectives. The effective leader practices and trains to listen, understand, process and evaluate others’ input.
Related to good listening, an effective leader is not dogmatic and “hard-headed,” but is open to differing viewpoints and perspectives. They “think outside the box” when considering solutions to contingency situations, appreciate, interpret and understand different ways of looking at an event.
Effective leaders are able to get the most out of team members by facilitating input from others, creating a situation in which the team makes decisions in a collaborative manner, fostering team work, and creating a sense of cohesion among all team members.
7. Able to Coordinate the Efforts of Others
They should have experience, knowledge, and/or training in how to get individuals to function together as a unified team. A leader creates cohesive, coordinated, integrated teams. (This is closely linked to #6 Facilitators.)
8. Critical and Integrative Problem Solver
A leader should possess both problem/solution analysis and critical-thinking skills. An effective leader defines, analyzes, and understands the unique complexities of each crisis. They critically analyze possible solutions and envision both the intended and unintended consequences of each. This requires reading the unique aspects of every situation and the capacity to visualize what it will look like once it has been implemented.
An effective leader adapts and responds to unique aspects of crises and changing circumstances. Inflexibility, rigidity, and inability to adapt severely limit leaders’ effectiveness.
10. Appropriately Decisive
An effective leader makes good choices during contingencies. Respondents suggested that inappropriate hesitation or reluctance to act both undermine effective leadership.
Effective leaders are skillful in laying out both short and long-term goals, setting specific objectives, making assignments and following through to achieve them. Being able to shift from the past, to the present and then into the future while staying focused on the ultimate goal is a powerful sensmaking skill.
12. Able to Handle Stress
An effective leader has the capacity to remain calm, stable, and focused during the most chaotic periods. A sense of stability must be maintained in order to keep recovery efforts on track during the stressful periods of a crisis.
13. Responsive and Responsible
An effective leader takes ownership of and responsibility for the resolution of a contingency. A leader takes responsibility for the team, support team ownership of the crisis response, and shields the team from inappropriate external interference. It is also important for the leader to ensure that the team as a whole gets recognition for success.
14. Able to Prioritize
An effective leader recognizes which tasks must come first and which can be delayed, retaining a clear sense of priorities of both purpose and process, having a knowledge of when to follow and when to deviate from the plan. Effective leaders balance what issues need to be tackled first and which ones are key to resolving other decisions and solutions.
The three most frequently mentioned characteristics were: Experience, Listening skills; and Decision-making skills. These three skills appear to be at the core of leader effectiveness. These were followed by: open-mindedness; solution/problem analysis, critical-thinking and communication skills. It's interesting to note that listening and communicating were separated by four other traits having to do with sense making. Perhaps that's why we have twice as many ears as mouths.
Many of these characteristics can be taught and developed through training or continuing education. In the event of a disaster or major disruption, the investment will prove to have been well justified. They are also very valuable in fast paced, creative work environments where new ideas are being explored and developed and competition is fierce.
Based on an article by Robert C. Chandler, Ph.D., professor at Pepperdine University. specialist in organizational contingency management communication, crisis teams, assessment, planning, training, and leadership; teamwork post-mortems; and ethical workplace conduct. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org