[February 09, 2015] After the Islamic terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the city of New York was fortunate to have many leaders who acted quickly to help the city recover. I’ve been asked repeatedly over the past few years whether leadership in peacetime/calm is truly necessary. They ask whether or not leadership is only needed in times of crisis?1
“When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.” – John F. Kennedy
The short answer to the question is rather obvious to any leader. Leadership is always needed but a crisis generates an extraordinary need for a leader – one who can see beyond the confusion and motivate people to move in the right direction. Two examples: New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani took the right steps after the terrorist attacks and is an example of leadership in crisis.2 We all remember from our history lessons that Prime Minister Winston Churchill guided the United Kingdom through World War II during their “darkest hour.”3
Regardless of how anyone views a crisis, all crises have the elements of both danger and opportunity. John F. Kennedy’s quote was part of a speech on April 12, 1959 when he spoke to the United Negro Fund. He was speaking about the competition between the United States and the Soviet Union, the racial integration of schools, and challenges facing the international community. In the speech (which can be accessed here) he talked about how leaders could use such crises to better humankind.
Ultimately the purpose of leadership is the advancement of a person, a team, a country – a chance to accomplish something important – is an opportunity. A crisis also brings increased risks, uncertainty, volatility, and complexity to a point that failure has highly unfortunate results … in short, danger. Leaders meld these together for either good or bad. In times of crisis, leadership is of the upmost importance but it will always be needed.
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 Economic collapse, world war, famine, and fatal epidemics are all examples of crises. Some define the concept of crisis as being any inconvenience like a bee sting, running out of gasoline, and even a shortage of red lipstick. For the purposes here, crisis takes on the more robust definition.