Who Would You Follow?

On September 13, 2005, President George Bush said, “[Hurricane] Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government.”

Forget about politics for a moment and just be a concerned citizen. Wouldn’t it have been nice if President Bush could have announced instead, “Timely simulations of a major hurricane exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government. The simulations helped local, state, and federal officials make major improvements. When Katrina struck, well-prepared officials responded quickly and effectively to save lives and reduce destruction. They kept Katrina’s cost to a minimum.”

Because crises are uncommon or unprecedented, there are no instruction manuals and no done-it-a-thousand-times experts to tell leaders how to cope with them. Yet we need leaders to lead, and because the stakes are so high in crises we need them to lead well.

How can leaders learn to make good decisions in situations they haven’t faced before? How can they get the experience they need to lead effectively and confidently?

The answer is training that goes beyond drills and manuals. The answer is to teach the first-rate decision-making and leadership skills that lead to creative solutions when there is no manual. This kind of leadership isn’t “natural;” it must be learned, and it must be learned before a crisis hits.