The Bible offers leaders advice when dealing with a crisis- plan, think, act, and have faith in your people to accomplish the mission (2 Chronicles 20).

Crisis Management

I have not written anything about crisis management, nor do I pretend to be a crisis management expert. However, I have been involved in many crises either at the higher headquarters level or at the unit level. I served ten tours in Afghanistan and have been involved in many crises on the African continent. I have served in the Pentagon- on the Joint Staff twice and the OSD staff once. I have also served on the Army Staff. I have served in a combatant command (US AFRICOM) as the Deputy Director for Operations. I have been a squad leader and have commanded units from the platoon level to the division command level. So, I do have something to say about crisis management and how the military responds to crises.

More has been written about crisis management and leadership than many other topics, yet today’s military struggles with both. Crisis management depends on competent leadership, decentralized organizational structure, empowerment, and trust. Stephen Covey pointed out, If you don’t choose to do it in leadership time up front, you do it in crisis management time down the road.”

You can have a crisis management policy, define all the steps, know all the ABCs of crisis management, and have written the book on crisis management, but if you do not have competent leadership that will stand by their people, decentralize organization structure, empower subordinates, and trust, you will fail at crisis management and have mediocre strategic and operational outcomes in many other areas. There are always opportunities in a crisis. In a crisis, there is always a danger of doing the right thing, the wrong thing, or doing nothing. There are always positive and negative consequences. The goal of crisis management is to achieve the best outcome possible while accepting risk, providing top cover for your people, and understanding that there is no perfect solution.

The military should be experts at crisis management. Unfortunately, it is not. I assessed that the military bureaucracy gets in the way, politics get in the way, agendas get in the way, hand-wringers get in the way, analysis paralysis slows down decision-making, a risk-averse mentality gets in the way, micromanagement becomes a problem, and too many people get involved. Instead of letting the level closest to the crisis effectively deal with the situation and provide them with the resources they need, the higher level meddles and gets in the way. President Reagan said it best, “Surround yourself with great people; delegate authority; get out of the way.”

“The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets people to do the greatest things.”

The Crisis Management Leader Types

Then there are the “I want to be in charge” type and the “I have a problem with every solution” type. The other type is the “I know everything about everything,” and we are all familiar with the type that requires “everything to be done their way.” The worst is the one that comes in at the 11th hour and throws a turd in the punch bowl. All of these types will be there to celebrate success but are nowhere to be found when the work, questions, and challenges arise.

Another issue the military has is creating an environment where everything feels like a crisis, and everyone wants to be a firefighter. Organizations need to be able to properly discern when a crisis team is required as opposed to existing teams in the organization overcoming common obstacles themselves. Ninety-Eight percent of the time, existing teams can handle any situation. The other 2% of the time requires a crisis management team.

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