By Dr. Reggie Ogea
In his recent book Catastrophic Crisis, Steve Echols asserted that “leadership is always on trial, but never more so than during a catastrophic event.”1 With the 10th anniversary of 9/11 upon us, and all of the recent catastrophic storms interrupting communities and congregations in the United States, it is good time to consider the impact of decisive leadership when navigating through a crisis.
Rudy Giuliani was mayor of New York City when the crisis of 9/11 emerged. Giuliani demonstrated that during times of crisis, leaders must excel in four areas: Be highly visible, composed, vocal, and resilient.2 We can make the application to congregational leadership during times of crisis.
High Visibility. A crisis is not a time for leadership retreat, but leadership visibility. People in the midst of a crisis want a leader who “shows up.” Those of us who live on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico understand hurricanes and their aftermath. Chaos and destruction is everywhere. Several days after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, my pastor visited me for advice. He knew that I had experienced a similar catastrophic storm in an earlier pastorate. “What’s the best action I can take as the pastor of our church?” he asked. I responded, “Have a church service on Sunday in the parking lot for those who will come, and take charge. People will appreciate you for showing up.”
Composure. When navigating through a crisis, leaders must maintain poise under pressure. Emotions must be kept under control. A calm demeanor exudes confidence. Peter Steinke defines this leadership trait as a “nonanxious presence.” “Leaders today cannot be as anxious as the people they serve.” 3 In the midst of a crisis, a leader’s face and voice tone determine whether or not people panic or remain calm, give in or maintain hope.
Communication. A key component in crisis intervention is public communication. People need to hear the facts from the leader early and often. Perception and presumption can be minimized by simply telling people the truth. John Baldoni studied the communication secrets of great leaders after concluding that leadership failure is not attributed to lack of vision, ambition, or desire, but lack of execution. And lack of execution can be traced directly back to lack of communication. 4
Resiliency. God has so wonderfully designed the human spirit with the ability to rebound from sudden trauma and interruption. Leaders who express high levels of visibility, composure, and communication in a crisis also must exhibit resiliency. The ability to “spring back” into action soon after the shock and shudder of a crisis produces leadership leverage. Soon after a crisis, people want to know if they are going to make it through the crisis. They will embrace the confidence of the leader. The Apostle Paul demonstrated resiliency throughout his itinerant ministry, summarized in his challenge to the Corinthians Christians: “Be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, knowing that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”5 Being steadfast and immovable personify resiliency.
Storms interrupt. Crises explode. But life must go forward. Navigating through storms and crises requires leadership visibility, composure, communication, and resiliency.
1Steve Echols and Allen England, Catastrophic Crisis: Ministry Leadership in the Midst of Trial and Tragedy (Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 2011), 132.
2Rudolph W. Giuliani, Leadership (New York: Miramax, 2002).
3Peter L. Steinke, Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times: Being Calm and Courageous no Matter What (Herndon, VA: The Alban Institute, 2006), xii.
4Jack Baldoni, Great Communication Secrets of Great Leaders (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003), xv.
51 Corinthians 15:58, Holman Christian Standard Bible.