Last week's tragedy at the World Trade Center demonstrates the
importance of leadership in a crisis. Everyone - employees, customers,
shareholders, the media - looks to the leader for spirit, strength, and
courage, which can only be demonstrated by taking active control. The
following guidelines get at the essence of what it takes:
1. Get your own house in order. Take charge of the situation in terms of
response, business recovery, and communications to all audiences.
Set up a system for regular communication with employees, and be visible
to them. If the issue involves government or emergency response, make
sure your organization is plugged in at the highest level so you have
the best possible information.
2. Create a chain of command. Assign areas of responsibility,
functionally reporting up the chain of command and coordinating with
Establish protocols for decision-making, with the CEO breaking the
In the CEO's absence (even you must sleep), who's in charge?
3. The CEO's job is front and center. Be visible. Coordinating and
controlling a company's reaction to a crisis means being in command of
communications with employees, customers, shareholders, government and,
of course, the media. Last week, Mayor Giuliani embodied
communications-in-action as a basic overall strategy.
4. Every inquiry matters. Leadership of communications means respecting
and processing every request for information. Set the standard for
developing, checking, and providing accurate information.
5. What you say is as important as what you do. When your company has
become the subject of news, you also become a source of information, and
will be judged quickly on how well you fulfill that responsibility. View
the situation as an opportunity to demonstrate leadership.
6. Talk to people, not at the media. Your tone and demeanor in
interviews should be empathetic and understanding. (President Clinton
always talked through the media directly to the American people.) Do not
take any question defensively, negatively, or personally. If you don't
know the answer, say so, and assign someone to find it.
7. You can't overprotect your reputation. There are those who would
counsel you not to overreact. But in a serious catastrophe, it is almost
impossible to overreact. Be open to all courses of action.
8. While executing today, plan for tomorrow. Take a moment and look down
the line at the resources and support that are needed for tomorrow, as
well as three days from now. Make planning relief for your front-line
troops a priority.
Loretta Ucelli is chair of issues and crisis management at Edelman PR
Worldwide, and is former White House communications director for