“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” – Mike Tyson. I saw this quote while scanning an excellent article in the Harvard Business Journal about the changing dynamics of business command and control, often referred to as “C2”.
In their May 28, 2014 article, authors John Coleman and Jim Whitehurst used this quote in illustrating the futility in maintaining linear command and control structures in today’s lightening fast and ever changing business environment. This article should resonate with emergency service leaders, especially those with strong paramilitary cultures. The authors identified three priorities today’s business leaders (incident commanders) must do to survive in today’s instant communication environment.
Inspire and impart purposeThe authors intent here was to acknowledge the competition in keeping employees, especially today’s younger workforce who need a sense of purpose to feel successful and fulfilled. The nature and mission of the fire service gives a fire chief a head start here, but can be quickly lost if taken for granted. I’d also argue the need to inspire and impart purpose plays a role with the public during crisis. Incident commanders today are expected to not only manage the response, but lead the response. The public expects leaders to be highly visible during crises, especially ones that impact their sense of security. Effective crisis communicators have the ability to motivate the public to take affirmative actions that assist the response and recovery.
Adapt and engage This is where the Mike Tyson quote comes in, emphasizing speed and agility as necessary management assets in today’s highly dynamic business world. Large businesses can no longer rely on a rigid chain of command framework to make good (and fast) business decisions due in a hyper connected environment. It simply takes too much time, and restricts the flow of critical information and untapped potential power of group problem solving and decision making. I argue the same holds true in emergency services. In a recent discussion with Gerald Baron, we discussed the barriers to fast, continuous and consistent public engagement during high visibility crises. I argued that two of the biggest barriers is the incident command system (ICS), and it’s concept of Unity of Command (meaning each emergency responder reports to only one supervisor). These concepts has worked well for decades, and I’m still an ICS disciple, especially in high hazard tactical situations. But, I also believe it naturally inhibits the free flow of information and necessary “group think” activities in aggressively managing today’s complex emergency events. This is especially true in communicating and engaging with the public. It is time to rethink how complex and dynamic emergency incidents are managed.
Leaders must be authentic The authors highlight this priority because of the proliferation of social media platforms and mobile technologies. In other words, there is simply no place for a leader to hide today. Authenticity is not an innate human trait, like intelligence. Rather, it is a quality bestowed upon leaders by those he/she interacts with. Authenticity breeds credibility. So, how does an emergency services leader (or public official) become authentic during crisis? I submit the following;
- Be empathetic, and share it (publicly and privately).
- Remember, it’s not about you. Don’t talk about you.
- Don’t lie. You can’t remember that long.
- Put the right people in the right spots.
- Support your team.
- Ask questions, listen to the answers, and act on them if important.
- Let the team do it’s job.
- “Take one for the team” if necessary.
- Never forget mission intent.
- Stay engaged.
- Only compromise when necessary, consistent with mission intent.
One of the things that struck me after reading the article was the lack of any mention of technical competence, knowledge and intelligence (other than Mike Tyson 🙂 . How many truly inspiring, engaging and authentic emergency leaders do you know?