So You Think It’s Easy to Lead During a Crisis?

Posted: June 3, 2010 in On Target
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Decision-making and leading during a major crisis – such as the current catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico – is difficult and stressful for a leader. George W. Bush probably went through a period on 9/11 and the immediate aftermath where he was uncertain of how to proceed. How could anyone be prepared for that? I think the same thing happened during Katrina, and was compounded by the obvious jurisdictional issues. I think it’s easy to downplay such influencing factors on the decision process. As for Obama, I believe he’s having a similar moment. We won’t know for a while if he can improve his style and ability to act, but for now I think he’s still trying to figure out what needs to be done and the best way to proceed.

As a former military officer, I have been in life and death situations that required immediate response and robust leadership, though certainly not with anywhere near the same level of responsibility, so I can sympathize to a certain extent with a leader in this context. All leaders go through periods of withdrawal and questioning, even the great ones. Churchill had numerous depressive episodes thoughout his career, and especially during the Second World War. Stalin reportedly became extremely depressed for a few days after the German invasion and withdraw into a cocoon. Once he got over it, he was able to take charge of the situation again, though I’m certainly not advocating imitating him in the detail.

© 2010 Richard Martin

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