We live in a life of tragedy. We think we are ready for it, as a person, parent, brother/sister, what about as a leader? What do we consider to be a tragedy? Tragedies range from the death of a loved one, a pet dog, an earthquake, a space shuttle flight gone wrong, or even a winter snow storm. What about the tragedy of 9/11, that will live with so many people forever. We also recently have the earthquake of Nepal. All types of tragedy that take leaders to react, implement next steps, deal with emotions that will be flowing through employees in many different ways. As a leader how do we deal with these different challenges in life and keep moving corporations/businesses forward but staying engaged in what is going on with employees.
I was only 17 years old when the space shuttle flight went wrong. I didn’t see the shuttle explode but I recall the silence that we had in the hall ways of the school. My high school year book reflects that moment in time. Yes, we were 17 years old but we took it upon ourselves to use our leadership skills by adding it to our year book so that the day in time would not be lost forever. President Regan had a challenge that day as a leader. He had to address the nation and help to capture how the world was feeling emotionally. He had to acknowledge what next steps were to the people. The YouTube video addresses his thoughts and leadership skills very well, pulled from Hombres’ blog of August 30, 2014. A lot of emotion was felt that day in 1986 when the Space Shuttle flight, Challenger 7, left the launch pad, no one could have foreseen the tragedy that would follow that lift off and the lives that were lost (Hembree, August 30, 2014).
Dutton, Frost, Worline, Lillius, and Kanov have found so many great words that talk about leadership and management in times of tragedy. One of them being at times of tragedy the managerial rule books fail us at times like these, when people are searching for meaning and a reason to hope for the future (Dutton, Frost, Worline, Lillius, and Kanov, 2002). There is, however, something leaders can do in times of collective pain and confusion (Dutton et al., 2002). Dutton et al says that “by the very nature of your position, you can help individuals and companies begin to heal by taking actions that demonstrate your own compassion, thereby unleashing a compassionate response throughout the whole organization” (2002).
The attacks of 9/11 left the world again in the wake of tragedy. Trying to figure out what happened and who would do such a thing, take so many lives. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was forced to deal with a town, community and world left asking questions why, who would do such a thing, and having to communicate to families who lost loved ones. How did Mayor Rudolph Giuliani address the tragedy that day? The day of nobody laughed, it was such a somber moment in time, even weeks later on September 29, he addressed it by being on the Saturday Night Live by first introducing the first responders as “heroes,” he also said “Our hearts are broken, but they are beating, and they are beating stronger than ever” (Michaels Lorne, 2011).
Mayor Giuliani touched on emotions, empathy of the hearts of people. He addressed those that we would never know as heroes. The video above actually has some visions, images of people jumping in as leaders. As you watch the video jumping in at about 11:40 you will hear lots of leaders speaking up and saying what they did. For example the police officer in the beginning who used a leadership skill of getting people to move out of the way In Memoriam – New York City, 9/11/01 (2002).
Conversely, when you expect people to stifle their emotions, they don’t know how and where to direct their energies and it’s very difficult for them to figure out how to focus at work. It can also test their loyalty to the organization (et al Dutton, 2002). A leader who touches on compassion will help employees to move through the wake of tragedy. Allowing employees to bring these parts of which they are to the office will bring in trust and acceptance, giving employees the place to go that becomes a home away from home.
The Huffington Post article by D. Michael Lindsey talks about how leadership in these situations requires much more than the admittedly difficult tasks of ensuring employee safety and clear communication (Lindsey, 2013).
- Tragedy requires your immediate attention. We must lead through these tragedies with an attitude of total and empathetic engagement (Lindsey, 2013).
- Your presence means as much to the surrounding community as it does to the grieving. It is easy to think that our care in such situations is primarily seen and felt by the individuals directly affected by tragedy; and certainly, this is where our attention must first turn. However, it’s important to understand that a leader’s steady presence and availability through sorrowful times also stands as a model for the wider community–a community that cares deeply for its own and looks to its leader for solidarity in their desire to comfort the grieving with compassion and sensitivity (Lindsey, 2013).
- Nobody expects you to say anything. Often, a leader’s first instinct is to speak to the community. We want to offer words of comfort, or worse, words of explanation, to those in grief. But more often than not, you should probably remain silent, at least initially. The most important work of a leader during a time of communal tragedy is in his or her quiet presence (Lindsey, 2013).
Tragedy is not pleasant and is difficult for leaders to deal with. Time has surely shown its images of tragedy. Even this week we can reflect on a tragedy that I think highly relates to learning about global leadership. The earth quake in Nepal, where as of today, April 29, approximately 5,000 people have died according to CNN (Shrestha, Mullen & Spark, 2015). Today a reporter from CNN says “”Life is returning to normal, but it will be some time to be completely normal,” he said, “We have still not been able to properly manage to provide relief” (Shrestha, Mullen & Spark, 2015). Leaders across the world are having to deal with the loss of so many, adults and children; and those from all cultures and nationalities. This is the time when leaders need to be diverse and aware of how to handle the current situation.
Dutton, Jane E., Frost, Peter J., Worline, Monica C., Lilius, Jacoba M., and Kanov, Jason M. January 2002. Harvard Business Review. Organizational Culture: Leading in Times of Trauma. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2002/01/leading-in-times-of-trauma.
In Memoriam – New York City, 9/11/01 (2002) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qqen8P31jWw
Hembree, John. August 30, 2014. Leadership In The Time of Tragedy. Retrieved from www.johnhembree.com/2014/08/30/leardship-in-the-time-of-tragedy/
Lindsay, D. Michael. April 29, 2013. The Blog: Leading Through Tragedy. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-lindsay/leading-through-tragedy_b_3166093.html
Paul Simon: 9/11 Tribute: Mayor Rudy Giuliani & Lorne Michaels. Saturday Night Live. Retrieved from https://screen.yahoo.com/cold-open-9-11-tribute-070000854.html
Ronald Regan Video….https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gEjXjfxoNXM&feature=youtu.be