In her recent article in the National Business Review (8 October 2010), Nicki Crauford states that we cannot survive without leadership. She argues that the need to be led is hard-wired into our collective psyche, and that in times of crisis we need that support more than ever.
Unfortunately, in the South Island of New Zealand these past few months, we have seen far more than our share of tragedy. The earthquake in September 2010 resulted in damage to the Canterbury landscape, but, thankfully, no loss of life. In November, we had the Pike River Coal Mine disaster, in which 29 miners lost their lives. And, just when we thought that's enough, the February 22 earthquake right under the heart of Christchurch resulted in the devastation of our city and its infrastructure, but more tragically, in significant loss of life.
At these times more than ever, we look to someone to step up and lead us.
Pike River disaster leadership: Peter Whittall
In the case of Pike River, newly appointed CEO Peter Whittall demonstrated this leadership. Every day he fronted up and faced the media as a roller-coaster of emotions rolled across the country—up and down, day after day, as they attempted to rescue the miners. Those emotions finally plummeted when a second, bigger, explosion meant that there was no chance that anyone could have survived below ground. More importantly, it was Peter Whittall, day after day, who faced the families, supporting them through the ordeal with information, honesty, and comfort.
Christchurch earthquake leadership: Bob Parker
In Christchurch, while the Head of the Civil Defence, John Hamilton, currently holds the positional power, the leadership is being shown, once again, by Mayor Bob Parker. In his ubiquitous orange jacket, Mayor Bob is out there fronting the response to the public of Christchurch. Whether facing the media, escorting dignitaries, or fronting up to the community briefing meetings held regularly over the city, "his words, calmness and authority have been a beacon providing reassurance, hope, and confidence in the future" (PR Matters, 2011).
To me, however, it is Parker's "street cred" which gets the nod. He is here, he is part of what we are experiencing, and, I feel, he is being respected for his ability to understand the circumstances and mood of the moment. In addition to the pragmatic details he can share, he appears to share the aspirations and values of the people. Christchurch will rise again, we will be better than before, and in doing so, we will honour those whom we have lost. In this time of uncertainty, these are words we want to hear.
Lee Iacocca's leadership scorecard
His scorecard was his 9Cs:
- Curiosity (an enquiring mind receptive to new ideas),
- Creativity (originality of thought),
- Communication (telling the truth),
- Character (having the guts to do the right thing),
- Charisma (the ability to inspire),
- Competence (knowing what to do) and
However, in a crisis, some of these Cs change, and become more important than before, and traits, which may have been perceived as negative, suddenly become exactly what people want.
9/11 and Rudy Giuliani's leadership role
Take the case of New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, for example. Giuliani earned the title "America's mayor" for his handling of the 9/11 crisis. Before that event, however, his popularity was on the skids and his "rigid and punitive" approach to governance, and his "my way or the highway" attitude was grating to more and more New Yorkers. Communication had not been seen as Giuliani's strongest card.
Since Pearl Harbour the U.S. had not experienced a terrorist attack on own its soil, and the 9/11 attacks caused nationwide fear over safety. Cometh the hour, there was Mr Guiliani. As he embodied the struggle to comprehend and recover, his response touched the chord of the people. His skill-set hadn't suddenly altered, but the leadership he provided was valued in the hour of need. Those irritating traits were now seen as the right stuff at the right time.
Leadership that matters in times of crisis
Mayor Bob Parker
Mayor Bob Parker's situation in Christchurch bears a number of similarities. When September's quake hit Canterbury, Parker was languishing in the polls for the upcoming mayoral elections. Some will argue that it was Parker's continual presence in the media that influenced the election, but many saw his strong leadership (previously criticised by many) as key to rebuilding the city. Whatever the reason, like Guiliani, he won the next election with a landslide vote.
In both cases, the circumstances demanded a particular kind of leadership. Both showed empathy and the ability to connect with the people, but more importantly in difficult times, where fear and uncertainty prevailed, they demonstrated strength, realism and confidence.
However, as we move forward from rescue to recovery—and soon, we hope to rebuild—will we need a different type of leadership? Going back to the 9Cs I see an increased role for creativity, curiosity, and I hope a bit of commonsense. Communication should change also—a move from one-way imparting of knowledge into genuine consultation and collaboration.
Leadership from among the community
As Dr. Cheryl Doig notes, "It's now that real leadership kicks in—not just the leadership of those in power, the leadership of the common people" (Think Beyond). The events of the past few weeks have seen a change in the way we interact- communities coming together to clean up their neighbourhoods, students and farmers standing up and offering assistance, everyday folk helping in everyday ways, but all with a commitment to rebuild the city that we all love.
"Out of tragedy has grown a tight-knit community of people who are dedicated to rebuild Christchurch in ways that will make the city strong" (Doig, 2011, Think Beyond). These people will want to have a voice in the rebuild, and the one-man-band approach will soon wear thin as we move out of crisis mode.
CORE staff member Tessa Gray shared these photos when we interviewed her for her ICTPD role, and I have used them extensively since when thinking about leadership.
In Photos 1 & 2: The Mother Duck strides ahead confidently leading her brood across difficult terrain (Photo 2)…
But, look at the result in Photo 3.
In Christchurch, as in any crisis, we need to ensure we have leaders with the skills and attributes to take people along with them through this difficult journey.
Ali Hughes is the General Manager/CEO at CORE. Ali worked in secondary school teaching and school management in the UK. Moving to New Zealand, she worked for 9 years as Associate Registrar at CPIT, also completing a post-graduate diploma in management. She holds a Masters in Business Administration, and has been recognised with Associate Fellow status of the NZ Institute of Management and as a Member of the NZ Institute of Directors. She also won the ATEM Meritous Services Award in 2010.
Latest posts by Ali Hughes (see all)
- Leadership in a crisis- cometh the hour cometh the man - April 12, 2011