What Should Every Leader Know? Crisis Intuition

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This month, Firestorm Principal Guy Higgins was the featured speaker during our webinar series. His topic of discussion was leadership and crisis intuition. Within the session, Guy compared and contrast notable leadership wins and losses after crisis scenarios. Case studies discussed included the: BP Oil Spill, Malaysia Airlines Crisis Response, Chevron Explosion and Chardon High School Active Shooter Response.

While comparing the events, Guy focused on four main points: the pressures leaders encountered, decision making, ethical challenges and managing consequences. Download and read the full webinar brief or watch a recording of the session via our YouTube page. 


In 1914, Ernest Shackleton assembled an expedition in England, intended to sail south to the Antarctic Continent and then cross the continent on foot. After departing the British Isles, Shackleton sailed to the Falkland Islands where he planned to replenish supplies for his final preparation for the voyage to Antarctica. While on the Falkland Islands, he was warned that the journey to Antarctica would be dangerous due to the unusually cold and stormy preceding winter and spring. He disregarded the local advice and continued his journey to the Arctic. Due to the cold weather that should have been anticipated, Shackleton and his men became locked in sea ice, which eventually crushed their ship. Shackleton led his entire crew across the sea ice, dragging a ship’s longboat and emergency supplies, to Elephant Island where he chose five men to accompany him on a 1000-mile voyage through the Antarctic Ocean back to the Falkland Islands where he organized a rescue operation, sailed back to Elephant Island and did rescue the remainder of his crew – losing no one.

After his ship was destroyed, Shackleton exhibited incredible leadership in the moment; but was it necessary? He was knighted for his leadership during the voyage; however, such superhuman leadership and achievement should have not been required.

Leadership should be exercised before a crisis, having thought of the ‘what if?’ scenarios. Planning must be conducted to prepare for situations that are unexpected – a step Sir Ernest did not take.

Avoid Leadership Mistakes by Planning – The Preaction Stage

Before a crisis event arises, every leader should ask these questions:

  • What is the organization’s strategy to handle events? The strategic discussion must include:
    • Response
    • Recovery
    • Considerations
      • Legal
      • Regulatory
      • Ethical
  • What is the plan?
  • Have we conducted training exercises?

Barriers to Effective Preparedness

Leaders must address the following barriers to effective preparedness:

  • Attitudes that include:
    • Disaster denial – “It won’t happen to us.”
    • “The plans we have are good enough.”
    • “We’re good enough leaders; we don’t need plans.”
  • Conflicting priorities – all organizations have priorities, but preparedness cannot be relegated to a low priority. Emergency and crisis events can endanger people and planning must have the right priority.
  • Lack of resources – no organization has unused resources. When preparedness is not adequately prioritized, the development of plans can be under-resourced.
  • Culture – leaders cannot allow a culture of ad hoc responses to emergencies and crises to restrict proper planning, training and practice.
  • Lack of ownership – if no one in the organization “owns” preparedness, plans will not be accepted and executed well.
  • Legal opinion – Firestorm has seen legal opinions that imply that no plan is a better legal defense than poor execution of a plan. That opinion is a barrier.

Download the full brief from Guy Higgins’ session to learn additional leadership responsibilities. The paper contains comparative case studies that include leadership responses during the BP Oil Spill, Chevron explosion, Malaysia Airlines crisis and Chardon High School active shooter situation.

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