Crisis Management: One of the most useful things I have learned is how simple everything becomes when I clear my mind. In the middle of a crisis, it is easy for me to forget that I make the best decisions when my mind is not participating in the crisis.
Crisis as a Tool
Difficult managers use crisis as a management tool. Everything is serious. Everything is urgent. They shake everybody up.
Old school football coaches were well-known for public sideline tirades. Nothing was ever good enough. No one ever performed up to his level of expectation. Every referee call against their team was an incorrect call.
When to Turn it Off
Effectiveness Depends on the Individual Employee.
I remember John Madden (Oakland Raiders) has talking about the importance of knowing when to use crisis management and which people to manage that way. There are players you light a fire under. You create a do-or-die, now-or-never sense of urgency. With other players, pressure is like a lighted match and gasoline. They can combust. They can become so intense that they mentally leave the game.
What the Experts Say
Psychologist George Pranksy has talked about a higher plane of thinking, a focus or intensity when an athlete has no single thoughts of the coach, the stadium, the crowd, or anything. The person is in the flow of the game and is not so much thinking as mentally moving through the experience of a physically flowing event. When someone calls time out, the player’s thoughts will move with the flow of the events of the time out.
Creating crisis thinking, depending on the individual, can destroy the mental flow of performance.
My Role Model for Crisis Management
The best boss I ever had is a man is retired Admiral S.R. Foley, Jr. He was my commanding officer on the USS Midway. I was a junior officer who stood bridge watches at the time. For me, managing a team of bridge personnel for the safe navigation of an airport at sea could fill my mind and make me fill panicky.
This captain always spoke softly. I never heard him raise his voice. He created in my mind a greater level of confidence and the ability to make better decisions.
Among other duties, I wrote the Midway’s press releases and sent them into U.S. Central Command during the Vietnam War. I was on the bridge when the message came in that “Midway’s press releases were consistently disappointing and useless.” The ship’s Executive Officer was the ship’s number two in command and was four ranks above me. He saw the message first and brought it up to the bridge to discuss it with me in front of the captain.
To me this situation was serious. A person who is second in command of an aircraft does not climb all the up to the bridge so that he can hand deliver a routine message to a junior officer in the presence of the commanding officer. I was in mental meltdown.
The captain read the message in a glance. He said, “I see what they want us to do. They need the press releases by noon every day.” His mind moved right past the inflammatory pieces and on to the issue of what we needed to do.
He asked if I could get the press releases to U.S. Central Command by noon. I said, “Yes, Captain” and made sure that I did.
A couple of weeks later, the captain called me over to his chair on the bridge. He handed me a second message from the person who had sent the nasty message. This time the message read, “Midway’s press releases consistently lead the fleet in excellence and receive widespread publication among the wire services.”
Why did the Midway’s press releases go from “useless” to leading the fleet in excellence? With all the inflammatory comments in the first message, it was hard for me to see past the crisis created in the message and on to what the message writer wanted.
Yet I was fortunate enough to be working for a person who did not let his mind become part of the crisis. He spoke softly, thought clearly, solved problems, and gave simple clear direction.