Poor crisis leadership was on display after Hurricane Katrina and during the financial crisis
The collapse of major financial companies starting with Bear Stearns, the stunningly botched reaction to Katrina, the inept federal response to tips about
Many of the most stunning leadership disasters have common ingredients, such as executives who lack integrity and build organizational cultures where dissent isn't heard.
"Leadership is not position. It's moral authority. Moral authority comes from following universal and timeless
principles like honesty, integrity, treating people with respect," says
Baker, author of Leading with Kindness: How Good People Consistently Get Superior Results, agrees that massive failures often can be traced back to leaders who don't listen.
The financial meltdown, which started with risky financial deals and ended with millions of everyday people losing jobs or homes, was an example.
"When the Mercedes was coming right up to the cliff, there were plenty of people who knew. They were either afraid to say so because the boss was imperious, or he didn't listen," Baker says.
Part of the problem: The wrong people are often chosen to head organizations.
"We go for these effervescent leaders when what's really needed is a dull, focused, plodding [person] building effective
groups and organizations," says
Whether it's talking about bullying in elementary school or standing up to a law partner, the focus on moral compass needs to start early and be reinforced with examples of leaders who made good choices, she says.
Some failures can be useful if leaders learn from them, says
The three biggest causes of failures he sees are not believing data, disregarding new phenomena, and not taking responsibility for problems.
Hurricane Katrina holds plenty of those lessons, says Mittelstaedt, a
"When you see people on rooftops, you don't sit around worrying about whose responsibility it is," says Mittelstaedt.
The financial industry meltdown and the lack of regulation in cases like that of swindler Madoff are good examples of ignoring the mounting evidence of trouble and not taking responsibility quickly to solve the problem, he says.
A recent report from the
Covey wants to see corporate America rethink its old-fashioned approaches and adopt a more collegial management style.
And Baker is hoping the recession will give leaders some "humility." Already, when he speaks at places like
For those who will someday put their lives or their livelihoods in their hands, that is good news.
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Contemporary examples of strong crisis leadership are in surprisingly short supply, experts say. And all too often, the reaction to a crisis is to hunker down and ride it out. But there are a few modern standouts, especially in the business world.
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