I can recall it vividly. About 4 PM on a recent Monday afternoon, I was in my office having a meeting when my cell phone rang. I looked at it and saw that it was our service director. However, I chose not to answer and continued my focus and attention on the person I was meeting with. The phone immediately rang again. This time, I excused myself and answered the phone. The service director quickly informed me that one of our vehicles was involved in a very serious accident, one with potential for significant injuries. He stated the area manager was on his way to the scene and was currently in a conversation with the vehicle passenger
As information, as well as pictures, quickly came in from various sources, I was able to piece together a relatively accurate account of the incident. It appeared that a vehicle had attempted to make a left hand turn across traffic. A semi truck was heading in the opposite direction and tried to take evasive action by entering the opposite lane of traffic where our vehicle had been traveling. In an attempt to avoid the truck, our driver left the road and went into a field. However, he was hit by the semi, causing our vehicle to roll several times with the semi resting on the top of the upside down vehicle. Both employees were able to exit the vehicle, but were transported to the hospital for evaluation. After a series of tests, both employees were released from the hospital. One was released with no injuries and the other received sutures due to a laceration on the head. Despite the severity of the wreck, the outcome was a positive one. Our employees left the scene of the accident with only minor injuries. It was great end result to a potentially devastating outcome.
As I reflect upon this situation, I have recognized just how much leadership counts! The way one conducts them selves during a situation has a dramatic impact upon others and the overall situation. With this incident in mind, I believe it’s important to outline the leadership traits and qualities that are crucial during a time of crisis.
Listed below are the steps I took during this particular crisis. These steps allowed me to posses the poise and confidence needed to lead our people as well as the company through this crisis.
- I had to quickly define what the problem was – Sounds straightforward doesn’t it? Well, it wasn’t. To accurately define the problem, I had to sift through all of the initial information and decide what were assumptions, exaggerations, and just hearsay.
- I asked pertinent questions to simplify the situation – I focused my questions on those that would provide relevant, simple information. I wanted to obtain information that was relevant, so I could relay an accurate account of the situation to my executive group. This was not the time to figure out what caused the accident to happen in the first place.
- I had candid communications – I was frank with my executives and CEO. It was a serious incident, one with potential for devastating results. I stuck to the facts. I never downplayed the situation or made things appear different from the presented information.
- I secured authorization to make decisions – I needed to secure the support of the executive group. The first three steps above showed this to be a swift, almost non-existent need. This allowed me to make decisions and take action with confidence. For example, I flew the injured employee’s girlfriend in from California and ensured that other family members were able to meet him at the hospital. I also made sure that everyone was fed and taken care of.
- I utilized the entire TEAM– I quickly realized that I wasn’t in the best position to make certain decisions. I brought in my regional EHS director for information on the injured employee and used the area manager for information regarding the accident scene. We also utilized lead individuals to gather personal belongings, tools, and equipment.
- I made the decision to do the right thing regardless of the outcome – I had to make decisions that were right for the employees’ health and well-being. I refused to cut corners or lower my ethical standards that would sway the outcome for me or anyone else.
- I needed to be visible and provide reassurance and support – I needed to be at the location. I felt it was critical to show support and reassure everyone that we would get through this. I booked an early morning flight. However, due to weather, my flight was delayed three different times. I made the decision to drive the nine-hour trek and get there by early evening.
- I displayed support and commitment by meeting the needs of those involved – The time spent on site was a simple one. I demonstrated support and commitment by making sure the employees had everything they needed. As I was told the details of what happened, I listened. This was not the place or time to investigate. I simply bought lunch, ensured needs were taken care of, and settled all medical costs. In addition, I provided an ear to hear and listened to those around me.
These eight action steps allowed me to be an effective leader by managing the situation, adequately communicating the facts, and leading people to an effective resolution. In retrospect, there are some things that I could have handled more efficiently. However, I can take these gained insights and use it to transform me into a more effectual leader.
Our ability to lead people through a crisis is the most important tool to obtain. Whether it’s ensuring the emergency is under control and necessary resources are available, or simply being a support person where people are taken care of and the facts are communicated, your leadership counts.
I hope by outlining my personal actions during this particular crisis will help you become a better leader. If and when you find yourself in the middle of situation, remember, a leader must show value and demonstrate influence to lead effectively.