Leadership in Crisis


AIPM Visiting fellow, Dr Cheryl Brown, reflects on the importance of constantly refreshing crisis frameworks as part of everyday business.

Australia’s preparedness for natural events are constantly occurring and government partnering with the community is a critical part of leading for community safety. This was a thread during the two-day Leadership in Crisis workshop in Singapore, where the conversation led to the value of a volunteer workforce, as a crisis response draws on a range of skills.

The AGCMF highlights the need for preparedness against human-induced crisis events and Superintendent Jaramazovic has reflected on the experiences in the US. Hearing high-level presenters discuss their leadership through incidents such as 100+ days of protest and community mass or police shootings was invaluable for him as a leader. The frank discussions with these leaders on the critical decision making throughout such crisis events and the impact of those decisions on public perception led to learning on better law enforcement responses.

A crucial part of this leadership equation for responding to modern crises is moving past purely hierarchical structures of leadership to broader awareness of the leader. Khader et al. (2023) highlights the importance of the leader managing themself, their thinking, and actions, managing others and the systems within which they operate. The Meta-Leadership Model for Crisis Leadership framework explains that leadership for crisis is multi-dimensional. 'Meta-leaders take a systemic view, exercising formal authority as well as influence well beyond that authority, leading ‘down’ to subordinates, up to superiors, across to peers and beyond to entities outside of the organization' (McNulty et al., 2021 p. 1).

It is clear from this discussion that it is not only the domain of emergency services to understand leadership in crisis. In a study of 12 senior decision-makers from the world of global corporations on different continents reflected on their experiences through COVID-19. These reflections resulted in the Resilience Shift suggesting where leaders should place their attention when entering a major crisis (Willis & Nadkarny, 2020). These senior decision-makers highlighted the difference between resilient leadership which is the qualities of an individual leader and leadership for resilience which is the work that fosters organizational resilience. The participants in this study wanted to talk more about the personal and societal dimensions of the organization and people in their care indicating that if a leader seeks to build resilience, understanding the personal and social aspects of leadership is equally if not more important as having the technical know-how to perform the role.

People are our greatest resource and leadership in crisis begins before the crisis arrives. Organizations, whether they be government, private enterprise, or communities, must invest in building the qualities and capabilities of resilient leaders as part of the preparedness for the inevitable crisis that may be new and unknown as little can be achieved once the crisis arrives.

Read more in our August 2023 newsletter.