Listen in as Two Crisis Experts Discuss Leadership in Crisis Situations

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How Leaders Lead in Crisis

An interview with crisis expert and author Bruce Blythe, Chairman, R3Continuum by Jim Satterfield, CEO of Firestorm

Pictured: Jim Satterfield and Bruce Blythe

Be a fly on the wall as you read through the information-rich conversation between Jim Satterfield and Bruce Blythe. The interview is composed of insights regarding cybersecurity, crisis communication and planning for the unplanned, among others.

Recently we shared part one of the crisis interview, but now we provide the full interview between these two experts.

A Message from Jim Satterfield:

Bruce has been a long-time friend of Firestorm, and as the CEO of Firestorm, I am very pleased to present this interview and recent Risk Management Spotlight conversation with Bruce. This Spotlight interview with Bruce focuses on what we, as senior leadership risk and crisis management professionals, do when called in to assist our clients in crisis, and leadership’s role when “blindsided” by a crisis. We also discuss the release of the 2nd edition of his book Blindsided: A Manager’s Guide to Crisis Leadership. In this updated and expanded publication, Bruce walks us through two books in one: Crisis Response and Crisis Preparedness.

Download the full interview here.


Jim Satterfield (JS): How do organizations start planning for the “unplannable?”

Bruce Blythe (BB): There is a world-renowned heart surgeon that I used to work-out with in the mornings. I asked him once:  “What makes you so good?” He said, “I always have the same procedure, I always have the same process, the same team who anticipate what I need. They know before I ask what tools I need.”  He continued: “The patient gives me variability, but as a team, we do the same thing from a process standpoint, from a protocol standpoint, the same thing every single time. That’s the anchor.”

That is exactly what organizations need to do. Even though you may not know what the crisis is going to be – the variable – if you have the anchor of the same process, the same method for activation and notifications, the same approach to decision-making, consistent authority levels and expectations, and team trust as a well-practiced group, all expectations are clear. You are ready to come to the game prepared even though it may be something that is a surprise.

JS: Once again, you’ve done a great job of answering not only this question but the next one I was going to ask which was: what is one of the characteristics of organizations that respond well to crises and catastrophes?  I think you have identified it. They have a system and a process.

For organizations that successfully navigate crises there are things they do ahead of time that are important to their success and I think that’s what you have been talking about. Identifying, having structures, having the right people at the right place at the right time…are there any other insights on this subject that you want to share?

BB:  Rudy Giuliani became Time Magazine’s Man of the Year in 2002 after his response to 9/11. The lesson learned there is that he led his teams to be crisis-prepared to the point where – prior to the attack – his director of reports would complain about the fact that they spent too much time with crisis preparedness and crisis testing. But, as a whole I would say once you have a plan, once you have a team in place or teams, however it may be structured, testing and exercising is the key. If in fact you have a dollar to spend on crisis preparedness – once you have your plan in place and once you have your team – I would suggest you spend eighty cents of every dollar on testing. Devise realistic exercises that test two things: number one is your plan. If your plan is not adequate then it needs to be revised; number two, if the team is not adequate, then the team needs to be trained or people need to be replaced or tested some more until they get it. The fact of the matter is that testing is the one common denominator most responsible for those organizations that respond well in crises.

JS: I think it’s a great answer in that testing becomes the QA/QC of crisis. It’s the quality assurance, the quality control process.

BB: I’m going to take it one step further Jim, and say that testing is the most vital component for crisis preparedness.

JS: I do like your eighty cents out of the dollar statement. I think that’s a good way to say, “It’s great to have a binder on a shelf but in reality, you have a paperweight collecting dust as opposed to any actionable plan within it.” So, the leadership characteristics that you would look for when dealing with crises and catastrophes, what would those be?

BB: There are four characteristics that good leaders should have:

There is something called The Synergistic Leadership Theory

Download the interview in full.

Reprinted by permission of The Insurance Research Letter, April, May 2017 Issues

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