An area of leader judgment that has great impact is those judgments rendered during times of crisis. As we read and hear hourly reports about a potential pandemic of swine flu, we know that good judgment is required of our local, state, and national leaders in the face of a looming crisis. The experiences from military installation and community leaders may be helpful to understand the essentials for higher level leadership.
The types of crises that can occur in local communities are wide-ranging. Incidents happen, like home or building fires, damage due to weather, medical emergencies, and others, that require routine response by emergency services. While these incidents may present a clear threat to life and property, they may also be relatively small in scope and impact to the overall community. An effective response can be anticipated and prepared for by developing standard procedures and protocols. Thus, responses to these events can effectively be planned, resourced, and rehearsed. The technical expertise to deal with these incidents resides in existent specialized teams and agencies. The role of the leader is to monitor and ensure processes are effectively executed and to judge when and where to add support if necessary.
There is another class of crisis events that requires substantially more from the leader. These events when they occur have substantial impact on the local community and may overwhelm the resources (people, facilities, equipment, and most importantly, time) immediately available to respond. And, if handled poorly, will damage the confidence in the staff to provide for the community. The potential for a local epidemic or larger pandemic requires prudent consideration and action. Leaders have to become deeply involved and apply their judgment on what to do to support their citizenry.
Professors Noel Tichy and Warren Bennis in their book, Judgment: How Winning Leaders Make Great Calls, offer insights on effective leader judgments. Leaders prepare in advance for crisis by building powerful teams within the organization and across the community. These teams of stakeholders have a shared organizational vision for community and act in accordance with organizational values.
The foundation for judgment and actions in time of crisis are embedded in the strategic plans and standard procedures to deal with anticipated crisis events. For both anticipated and unanticipated crises, leaders must quickly bring together those with the knowledge to inform judgment and to mobilize others with the experience, skills, and competencies to take action.
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