Crisis Leadership: Listening and Empowerment
It is important to listen more than you speak. That skill is key in all relationships, but the potential positive results when listening as a leader are great. Listening is a key element of empowerment which is an attribute of effective leaders who deliver positive results, particularly before, during, and after a crisis.
As the statutory leader of the Ohio State Highway Patrol, and later as the Director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety, with nearly 4,000 employees, six divisions and a billion-plus dollar biennial budget, I learned the importance of empowerment not during my time in those positions but before. I learned it from peers, shift supervisors, and visionary leaders who held positions before me and from ordinary people who lead in extraordinary times and during extraordinary events. I also learned it from poor leaders. The differences between good and poor leaders is stark and obvious to me. In a crisis, the attributes of good and poor leaders are also obvious to everyone.
One example of where listening led to empowerment, which led to crisis planning, which led to an incredibly powerful, positive result, occurred a few years ago after I had just been appointed as Ohio’s public safety director. In a brief weekend conversation, a former police chief of a small community who was working as a corporate security director for a national mall chain, expressed the need to do more to prepare the nation’s malls for an active shooter threat. He said he had brought the issue up locally several times but no one seemed interested or listened. I didn’t know if it was needed but I relayed the idea to staff who worked in crisis planning for the Department. They worked with the security director and developed an inclusive, collaborative approach. In the process, they had to overcome the resistance and objections of at least one local leader and the skepticism of several others. Together they developed a crisis tool kit specific to malls that was utilized not only at that one Ohio mall, but is now used as a model across the United States and many countries throughout the world. The underlying aim of the tool kit, interestingly, is designed to bring stakeholders together to listen to each other.
Listening leads to empowerment and vision. For those with the foresight to prepare for a crisis, the planning process will identify those within organizations who are strong in leadership skills such as listening. As a leader, regardless of position or title, before, during, and after a crisis, it is important to listen more than you speak.