Crisis Can Create Opportunity

By | October 24, 2014

[October 24, 2014] Seeing that a crisis can create opportunity is the first step in superior leadership. Anyone ever having the honor of being inside a military tactical operations center during a battle can see for themselves that a crisis generates risk and opens new prospects. In battle the risks can be deadly and failure horrific but the prospects of success means that a new stage is set for achieving strategic objectives. Thus, a crisis is actually made of two components: threat and opportunity.

“Crisis creates opportunity.” James Thurber, director of American University’s Center on Congressional and Presidential Studies 

Any crisis forces an organization to regroup, refocus, reach out, and even reinvent. Leaders understand that a crisis means that the old way of doing things can now be changed, under certain restrictions. In the Six-Day War of 1967, for example, Israel preemptively struck at a number of Egyptian1, Syrian, and Jordan military targets. Israel would never attack without provocation and with the closure of the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping and other confrontational acts by Egypt and PLO sabotage, Israel quickly reacted. Within six days, Israel decisively won a land war, taking control of the Gaza Strip, Sinai Peninsula, West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Golan Heights. Imminent military threats from this Arab coalition put Israel at risk of being destroyed as a nation. The opportunity was taken to crush their enemy and change the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East.

“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” – Rahm Emanuel, Mayor of Chicago, Illinois

Rahm Emanuel, then White House Chief of Staff appointed by U.S. President Obama, experienced a political backlash for this quote … but he was correct in the observation. Early in the president’s first term, the U.S. economic outlook was grim. As things were getting worse, it created more realistic opportunities for the administration to drive through its political agenda. The crisis was creating a sense of urgency for the government to do something, anything was better than nothing. Acts by the government that once appeared optional suddenly seemed essential. This is where the economic “Stimulus” was formulated and executed.2 Emanuel’s comment was in reference to this advantage gained by his political party.

Reinforcing what Emanuel observed, Winston S. Churchill once said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”3 While this was said in the political environment of pre-World War II Britain, it applies across all human organizations, small and large. Skilled leaders can use this for either good or evil. Adolf Hitler used it for evil, Winston Churchill used it for good.

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[1] Egypt was known as the United Arab Republic at the time.

[2] Known officially as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Pub.L. 111-5). See Wikipedia for a good summary at:

[3] There is some controversy about whether he actually said it.


Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

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