>Emergency Leadership

>As with anything, the topic of leadership can be split and subdivided any any number of ways, but if we look at the multitude of environments which catalyze leaders, there are basically two types of leadership. The first, is emergency leadership, and the second is—drum roll please!—non-emergency leadership.

Emergency leadership is whenever a person stands up in the face of disaster and says, “Let’s do this.” I use the word “disaster” loosely here because the most obvious examples—in news media and fiction, say—are disasters. Whenever there is an earthquake, a flood, a fire, a plane crash, a train crash, a terrorist bomb, etc, certain people stand up and say, “Let’s roll!” However, less public examples include late bills, traffic jams, broken copy machines, and marital spats.

Emergency leadership so often takes center stage in media because, for one, leadership of any kind is rare, and two, fixing a disaster looks so heroic. Tales of heroism have long been an important mainstay to the storytelling tradition. Stories of disaster and the brave men and women who led the people out of the darkness are as easy to relate for the teller as they are to envision by the listener. And they pass along portable lessons which are inspirational and valuable in less obvious crises.

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=fitmedia-20&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=0743269519&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifrThe trouble with focusing solely on emergencies, as mainstream media tends to do, is that it teaches to—and therefore re-enforces—a reactionary paradigm. Many, if not most, emergencies are the result of too little proactive leadership—or non-emergency leadership. As Stephen Covey says in “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” most people focus on tasks that are “urgent”—whether or not they are important.

Proactive leadership is preventative maintenance. Many of the tasks performed are not heroic or glamorous, even though they are important.

In their quest for success, many ambitious people fall short of their potential because they seek the recognition that comes with heroically putting out fires. While putting out fires is certainly important, fires (even figurative ones) cause permanent damage which stunts growth long-term. Fires also take more time and energy to put out than sparks, and so reactionary leaders tend to waste valuable resources needed to prevent fires in the first place.

Despite popular opinion, the problem is not caused solely by “greedy hotrods.” Many people simply lack the mental ability to recognize tasks that are important, but not urgent. It’s not that they are stupid, just unlearned. Abstract concepts start with concrete examples, which is why stories of emergency leadership is so pervasive. It is important to grab a hold of an example, such as Jack Shepherd, from my favorite TV show, LOST.

Being a doctor, he reacted to the plane crash with the use of his expertise, and gained the position of leader, even though he didn’t want it. However, his reactionary style continued long after the crash, when the survivors had settled into a sort of lifestyle—or “normalcy.” Jack goes on to orchestrate acts of defiance against the other people on the Island who presented themselves as a threat.

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=fitmedia-20&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=B00005JNOG&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifrThough he eventually learns to bide his time, he never really learns to be proactive. Interestingly, it is Sawyer, the “bad boy” of the survivors’ camp who goes on to learn about being proactive. In a memorable scene, he tells Jack about Winston Churchill, who he says “read a book every night, even during the Blitz.” His point is not far from Covey’s 7th Habit, “Sharpening the Saw.” Or in other words, preparing for the unknown.

Once you understand the principles behind the first type of leadership, it is important to dig deeper in order to get better at preventing the disasters that are within your area of influence. Once the disaster is over, the war brought to peace, and the fires put out, it is imperative to understand what went wrong so we can change our habits before they lead to another disaster. In so doing, we save a lot of time, energy, and even lives.

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