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Article

Colleges and universities are values-based organizations. These values help anchor an institution around a set of shared principles that, when enacted, provide guidance and stability in the pursuit of one’s mission. The realization of the tripartite mission of teaching, research, and service—and in some cases, community engagement and/or clinical excellence—hinges on the articulation, identification, and manifestation of some set of shared values. During times of stability and normalcy, the embodiment and enactment of core values may come quite naturally to the members of an organization, often with little reflection or deliberation. But amid the perilous conditions often present during periods of crisis, these values have the potential to recede from view as those with formal crisis responsibilities respond to the urgent demands of the moment. Crises, by their very nature, cause disruption, and they have the potential to threaten an organization’s core mission, purpose, or reason for existence. Within the context of higher education, the work of crisis leadership is made especially complex in light of the decentralized and loosely coupled organizational structure of colleges and universities, along with the traditions, decision making patterns, and limited opportunities for training and development that constrain institutions in responding to the complexity, urgency, and interdependent pressures characteristic of contemporary crises. Furthermore, the moral purpose of higher education, the diversity of stakeholders, and the wide range of potential crisis situations make the subject of crisis leadership in this context one of increased relevance and importance for scholars and practitioners alike.

Article

Explicitly considering major critical infrastructure disruptions from the perspective of crisis/crisis management enables policymakers, analysts, and researchers to draw inspiration from an extensive multidisciplinary literature. Furthermore, this approach takes infrastructure failures or disruptions, and provides crucial institutional, economic and social context that is too often ignored when such challenges are treated as exclusively technical problems. The added value from this approach enables analysts and decision makers to understand the complexity of such failures and consider the many levers—technical, economic and social—that might be used to respond to them. Attempts to understand infrastructure failures as crises are not new, but the literature—like the field of practice—is to some extent underdeveloped and continuously evolving (e.g., with regard to the challenges associated with cybersecurity), generating a need for a more comprehensive approach to understanding the leadership tasks associated with the management of such crisis events in dynamic and complex organizational environments.

Article

To understand how policy is made, one must understand not only the individuals who make the decisions, but also the role of bureaucratic politics and the goals of the institutions themselves. Graham Allison’s classic Essence of Decision created the bureaucratic politics model and was the catalyst for a rich research agenda on decision-making. Using Allison as a starting point, researchers have expanded the understanding of the role of bureaucracies in deliberation and decision-making, particularly during times of crisis. Typically, institutions fill the day-to-day “politics as usual” role of decision-making, but their actions during crisis, by definition an abnormal event, allow bureaucracies to pursue their own objectives by way of a new opportunity to exert influence and to reshape the power structure of the political landscape. The research agenda on individuals and decision-making has also made great strides since the 1970s and helps to illuminate when the bureaucratic politics model has great explanatory power and when it is less useful. The level of influence bureaucracies have is dependent upon where they sit within the system and how they are utilized by the executive branch of government. Leaders, such as the President of the United States, hold a significant amount of power, and the ways in which they hold onto power, or allocate it to other actors, which is a function of their leadership style, can either empower or disempower bureaucracies. In other words, the importance of bureaucracies connected to the executive branch of government fluctuates with an individual’s personality characteristics and leadership style. Specifically, a leader’s personal need for power, their expertise, and their personal interest in policymaking, as well as their cognitive complexity, the amount of differing information they want and are capable of cognitively processing, influence the way in which the leader will delegate decision-making. Leaders like Lyndon B. Johnson relied heavily upon expert advisers and allocated decision-making to lower-level agencies. Alternatively, some leaders (e.g., Richard Nixon) have experience, particularly in foreign policy, and believe they are their own expert adviser; thus, they are involved in nuanced decision-making and rely upon only a very small number of advisers (in Nixon’s case, just Henry Kissinger). A common normative criticism of bureaucratic politics, and group decision-making in general, is the collective cognitive conformity, commonly known as groupthink. The general assumption is that individuals within a group will seek conformity and avoid the conflict caused by raising alternatives during policy deliberation. However, bureaucratic politics mitigates groupthink by bringing in a greater number of actors with differing goals and perspectives, making deliberation more open. Again, this is significantly influenced by how the leader utilizes advisers and their respective bureaucracies. Where Kennedy was very open-minded and actively sought various perspectives during the Cuban missile crisis, George W. Bush created an insulated decision-making environment after 9/11 and leading up to the invasion of Iraq. As society continues to change, particularly with regard to reliance upon technological adaptations, such as nuclear energy, new crises will occur. These crises will require the cooperation of more bureaucracies and occasionally new bureaucracies. Through these crises, bureaucracies will compete for political influence, and the power structure of the political landscape will inevitably change and affect policy decision-making.

Article

Eric J. McNulty, Leonard Marcus, Jennifer O. Grimes, Joseph Henderson, and Richard Serino

Meta-leadership is a framework and practice method for broad, overarching leadership that meets the demands of modern organizations that have evolved beyond purely hierarchical structures and face complex crisis situations. The meta-leadership framework consists of three dimensions: the Person, or the characteristics and behaviors of the leader; the Situation, or the context in which the leader operates with its inherent challenges and contingencies; and Connectivity, the relationships and interconnections among the full range of stakeholders. Such an overarching model guides self-assessment by the leader, multidimensional analysis of the problem, and collective action to achieve a shared goal. It assists the leader in navigating complexity, understanding diverging perspectives, and recognizing opportunities to leverage overlapping interests as well as distinct capacities and capabilities among stakeholders in order to generate benefits for all. Using the dimensions as lenses for thinking and levers of action, the leader envisages and encourages cohesive efforts within the organization and encourages buy-in from potential external collaborators. 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. Encompassed within each dimension are leadership techniques and tools for navigating the difficulties of competing interests, framing solution sets to influence the trajectory of events, and maintaining order amidst seeming chaos. The desired outcome is a “swarm,” where autonomous entities operate in swift synchrony to address threats and seize opportunities, overcoming the limitations and confounds of a “command-and-control” approach amidst the confusion of crises. This evidence-based framework has been envisioned and refined by both interdisciplinary research and the pragmatic experience of crisis leaders and organizational executives. While well suited to the intense environment of crises, meta-leadership has also proven useful in everyday leadership in situations involving diverse stakeholders facing a shared challenge.

Article

Arjen Boin, Christer Brown, and James A. Richardson

The response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 has been widely described as a disaster in itself. Politicians, media, academics, survivors, and the public at large have slammed the federal, state, and local response to this mega disaster. According to the critics, the response was late, ineffective, politically charged, and even influenced by racist motives. But is this criticism true? Was the response really that poor? This article offers a framework for the analysis and assessment of a large-scale response to a mega disaster, which is then applied to the Katrina response (with an emphasis on New Orleans). The article identifies some failings (where the response could and should have been better) but also points to successes that somehow got lost in the politicized aftermath of this disaster. The article demonstrates the importance of a proper framework based on insights from crisis management studies.

Article

When a crisis manifests, the problem or situation is often at a terrible point where sage and timely decisions are of critical importance. Ideally, the particular emergency has been known previously and various challenges, roadblocks, and solutions workshopped in a tabletop or other exercise. Whether in advance or at a sudden precipice, a whole-of-government approach can navigate, mitigate, and alleviate the disaster in a holistic and comprehensive manner that is tailored to the task at hand. Whole-of-government crisis management—at the local, state, national, or international level—involves several elements. First, those in command need to know the myriad of players who may have roles and responsibilities to play at pivotal moments. Every organization will not be required in every crisis, and a strategic mix and match is often valuable. Second, each agency needs to understand how it fits into the larger puzzle and adjust their internal culture accordingly to support interagency operations, regardless of who is providing a lead function and who is supporting. Then, the agencies must have the staff available to fulfill their tasks and surge capacity, making provisions for alternative personnel or a “backbench” to execute everyday operations while the frontlines are busy. Elements of whole-of-government approaches appear throughout all aspects of crisis management. A relatively recent term, whole of government is an expansive framework for coordinating interagency responses that is often invoked in policy documents, as well as examined in academic studies. As it is adopted by various administrations and organizations during times of calm and emergency, the whole-of-government approach has aspects that are enduring, countervailing, and aspirational. The instruments of national power—diplomatic, information, military, and economic (DIME)—provide one lens through which to examine whole-of-government crisis management. Past interagency responses demonstrate best practices and difficult lessons learned for future whole-of-government operations. A broad analysis of whole-of-government crisis management enables government leaders, practitioners, scholars, researchers, and others to create comprehensive and flexible strategies with delineated roles for dedicated interagency partners in advance of the next hurricane or terrorist attack.

Article

Thomas Preston

Advisory groups and their dynamics play a critical role in crisis management. If they function well and complement the leadership styles of political leaders, advisory groups can provide broad information search, diverse advice and perspectives, and reinforce a leader’s own strengths. They can surround an inexperienced leader with advisors possessing policy expertise or experience in an issue area. On the other hand, advisory groups can also easily fall into more dysfunctional patterns where they do not compensate for a leader’s weaknesses, fail to provide varied perspectives or alternative views, and engage in limited information gathering. Advisory groups can help seal an administration into an “alternative reality bubble” during crises, resulting in policy decisions being made based upon faulty perceptions instead of realities. How should we seek to understand advisory groups and crises? The first cut should involve the consumer of the advisory group’s inputs themselves, the leader. Advisory groups almost always serve at the pleasure of the leader, not themselves, and therefore the leaders will play a major role in determining their influence, how the groups will function, and their importance during crisis decision making. Important variables such as leadership style, sensitivity to context and need for information on the part of leaders, how much control they require over the policy process, and how their prior experience or expertise leads them to rely more or less upon advisors must be examined. The second focus should be upon the advisory groups themselves, their internal dynamics and reactions to stress, how decision rules and policy formulation occurs, and how group pathologies can undermine their crisis performance. Variables such as group malfunctions resulting from stress and the needs for cohesion during crisis (like groupthink) or the splintering of group consensus to warring factions that undercut cohesion (like polythink) must be considered. The stage of development an advisory group is in (i.e., newgroup versus established), the stage of the policymaking process involved (i.e., deliberative versus implemental), how sequential decision-making processes function, the composition of the group members (i.e., experts versus novices), the type of crisis the group faces, and the bureau-political dynamics involved all impact crisis management.