Why Leaders Need Realism in a Time of Crisis
First responders live the value of Realism every day. It is highly relevant to their job.
Realism means concerned with just the facts; favoring practicality and literal truth.
In life-threatening situations, such as an automobile accident or a house fire, time is of the essence. Lives may depend on the speed of rescue and getting to a hospital.
Some of the questions you’ll hear from emergency and rescue workers when they first arrive on the scene are:
- “Are you ok?” or “Are you hurt anywhere?” or “Is anyone else hurt?”
- “Is anyone else still inside?” or “Has everyone been accounted for?”
- “Is there anything we should know before we move you?”
Sometimes activities may happen simultaneously (e.g. rescuing people while containing a fire). But it’s the focus on facts that drive all decisions that ultimately lead to the best outcome.
Note that determining the cause of an accident or fire can be done later. In the middle of a disaster, assessing fault or blame should be the last thing on anyone’s to-do list.
The benefit of realism is to help manage priorities. This is a leadership issue.
Realism for Leaders
The value of realism is also highly beneficial to leaders whenever a crisis occurs. At such moments, leaders are like first responders where the order of importance should be:
- Ensuring the welfare of people first, before profit, product, or process.
- Containing the problem to prevent others from being hurt.
- Securing the surrounding environment, especially if it impacts other people.
But once a crisis is contained, the value of realism continues to be relevant for leaders where they must continue with the
- Cleanup, which may include some investigation for cause.
- Detailed assessment of what happened, by whom, where, when, and how.
- Determination of costs, and who will pay to for restoration or damages.
Applying the value of realism can be a powerful ally for leaders to successfully lead through a crisis, bring closure to it, and ensure it doesn’t happen again.
Last but not least, the value of realism also helps leaders when they face difficult interviews with others, including the media. When this occurs, there are two rules that leaders should always abide by:
- Always state what is true (the facts). When uncertain, say so.
- Focus on the positive. State what is being done, or the plan, to address the crisis.
Leaders that excel in leveraging the value of realism during a crisis also tend to excel in winning the trust of others when the crisis has past. And it’s the building of trust that is of critical importance for leaders to accomplish goals, fulfill their mission, and realize their vision.
Or as Winston Churchill is credited as stating: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” To which I would add, it’s a great opportunity to build trust with others.