Whether you work for the President of the United States, a Prime Minister, a city Mayor or the CEO of a corporation, what qualities should you anticipate they would be looking for when they are considering someone to appoint to lead the organization through a major emergency?
Too often, we assume that the person who has the technical knowledge pertinent to the crisis or was immersed in plan preparation is the best person to lead the response to the crisis. Technical planning is a valuable skill but it may not be the skill that is needed to respond effectively to the emergency. As the First World War German military strategist Helmuth von Moltke wisely noted. “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.”
In summary, with my prior thoughts and comments in mind, remembering that we are speculating on the President’s thinking when he appointed the Ebola Czar; I suggest there are at least six qualities that the President or the CEO of any major organization will look for in appointing a Czar to lead the organization’s response to the emergency.
High on the list of qualities I believe would be that the CEO has confidence in the person’s abilities to deal decisively with all aspects of the response to the emergency. The CEO will want someone who can think on his or her feet and not hesitate to act as the crisis unfolds. This is not the time to set up a new committee that will share responsibly for making decisions on different aspects of the response. Of course establishing an advisory team to assist with issues and keep the CEO, as team leader, well briefed on what is critical. Nevertheless, the team advises and the team leader assesses the advice and then acts decisively. The CEO must be confident that her appointee is capable of being decisive and moving forward with the response.
- Known Entity
If the CEO has not had any experience with the prospective appointee, the CEO will not have confidence that this is the right person to effectively lead to organization through the emergency. This means the person is going to have to be someone that the CEO knows and has previously worked within the CEO’s inner circle. This is a good reason for people in the emergency response profession to do their upmost to maintain contact with the CEO and her executive team on an ongoing basis, not just during what may be rare emergency events. Emergency managers who fail to raise the profile of their programs, through effective marketing within their organizations, will find the awareness level of their program within the executive team to be deficient and probability experience someone else being appointed to lead the organization through the emergency.
- Organizational knowledge
Extensive knowledge of the organization and established relationships with departmental leaders is a major asset that the CEO will certainly value in someone to lead the response. There is truth in that old adage that “the morning of an emergency event is not the best time to be swapping business cards.” Emergency managers should make the effort to stay in contact and build solid relationships with departmental leaders. Take an interest in how their department operates on a normal basis and then you will be able to assist them with response and recovery more effectively when an emergency occurs. Do not wait for them to invite you for a coffee, make it a practise that you schedule a contact with departmental leaders on an ongoing basis. They and the CEO will be more accepting of your leadership and expertise during an emergency if you are already on a first name basis with these leaders.
The CEO wants to be assured that you have the best interest of the whole organization at heart. The risk with an emergency response leader coming from one of the emergency management silos is that not only may the CEO consider your view of the organization to be “blinkered” but also the CEO may perceive you as myopic. You may have worked in one of the silos within the organization, but you must have demonstrated that you do not carry any biases with you. The same risk arises if someone who has specific technical knowledge takes a lead role. Subject matter experts are often experts because they have focussed entirely on a single area throughout their careers and may fail to see the contribution that other areas can make to the recovery. So recalling the comments about the CEO knowing and having acted on your advice in the past, it will be critical that the CEO accepts your advice as based on a view of what is in the unbiased best interests of the organization as a whole. The CEO will not value a view from someone who operates in a silo or only has a narrow view of the requirements for a comprehensive recovery.
Can he work with people? How often do we hear that question when trying to determine if someone is a good fit for a job? Most jobs these days do reply on a strong ability to work with people. When we say that what we really mean? We are really asking if the person is collaborative. Collaboration means that solutions are fashioned by the group. Just having a pleasant personality but still ignoring the potential contribution of each member of the team is not sufficient. The CEO assumes that when her Czar presents a recommended direction that there is pretty well universal buy in from all the affected players. If the CEO approves a direction, she does not want to hear other players announcing their disagreement or opposition to the direction. It is incumbent on the person leading the response to get the buy in from all players and that demands a collaborative approach.
- Communicator extraordinaire
In real estate, they say the most important rule is “Location, location, location!” In emergency response, I believe the most important rule is “Communication, communication, communication!” Time after time “after action reports” of emergency response events detail most aspects of the response went well, except Communications. You can bring together the best team of people to deal with the technical aspects of the response but if you fail in the area of communications, your response will be seen as failing. The best leaders communicate in every direction, share as much information as possible and demand that their partners share information appropriately. Of course, there is information that should remain confidential and there should be clear protocols about what is released to various audiences and by whom. However, if the CEO is finding out about some aspect of the response from the media, then your communication effort failed in one very critical area.
If you go review the after action report of the last major emergency in which you assisted or led the response and recovery, did you see these qualities presented? Your review may require some introspection if you personally led the response and recovery. Do you agree that an emergency management Czar should possess these qualities? Are there other qualities that would assist the Czar?