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The two sides of authentic leadership in a crisis

Brian West, Fellow, Public Relations Institute of Australia | July 2, 2015
Action speaks louder than words, and in real crisis situations, it communicates powerfully.

"I apologise profusely for what they are going through, I am the leader of this company; I take responsibility. That is why I am here. I am not running away from my obligations even though we don't know what's wrong [in causing the crash]. The passengers were on my aircraft, and I have to take responsibility for that."
– Tony Fernandes in a televised press conference, after debris from the plane was first spotted.

Tony's response (and, really, the way he was quickly called into action) is illustrative of the fact that one of the most vital roles for any CEO is to ensure their organisation is fully prepared to successfully deal with crises – from cybercrime to product failures to natural disasters. When McKinsey polled global CEOs on the most important capabilities in managing a company through a crisis, they found that two qualities emerged at the top – both of which Tony demonstrated in spades. The first was leadership – the ability to inspire others and shape their actions, and the second was direction, defined as the capacity for clarity around where the organisation is going and aligning people on how to get there.

Yet, in practice, the ability to provide this leadership and direction hinges on a third quality: preparation. As we know from experience, when a crisis hits, the market decides quickly whether a company is a winner or loser. Public perceptions start forming with the first tweet, making a company's response in the first 24 hours absolutely critical.

If a crisis came calling today, are you comfortable that your company has the right plan and the right people in place, fully prepared to respond swiftly and effectively and to show authentic leadership? Or are you simply in a position to check boxes off a list? These are questions and realities that need to be confronted before it's too late.

Brian West, based in Singapore, serves as PR firm FleishmanHillard's global crisis management lead for Asia Pacific.


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