Disaster Project Management: Emergency Leadership

There is no greater pressure than life-or-death situations. Hurricane Harvey just left and, as I type this, Hurricane Irma is pounding and ripping up the eastern side of the US.  On top of that, with today being September 11, I cannot forget the incredible terror attacks on the Pentagon and Twin Towers, which changed my heart and my thoughts on what it means to lead in a disaster forever.

Aerial view of damage at the Pentagon 2 days after the attack in 2001 (Picture: Cedric H. Rudisill)

Emergency leadership requires a person to take immediate action. There isn’t a lot of time to figure out best practices or analyze the situation for an optimum solution. In an emergency, leaders must show confidence, take charge, communicate what needs to get done, and delegate with authority, all while appearing calmly to really know what to do (when they may not).  It is about making the best choices, at that time, for that situation and being able to communicate them clearly.

Leaders in a crisis are the people that are able to make decisions quickly for the benefit of everyone. They know that setting priorities (do this first, then this, then that) and making hard choices (ignore that and do this), can make all the difference between getting stuff done and things getting out of control.

Emergency leadership also requires a ‘steady hand at the helm.’ You need to put any extremes of emotion aside and focus on the tasks to be done. Your ability to stay calm under pressure gives the confidence to others to follow your example. The more you can rise above the clamor and chaos, the more you will be able to rally the teams needed and get people moving in the right direction.

Neighbors removing downed trees in Jacksonville, Florida. September 11, 2017 (Picture: Johnny Milano for The New York Times)

Stay calm, stay focused on the goal, and find a way to stay positive. As a Leader, your mental attitude goes a long way to demonstrate to others that together you can all get through this crisis.

There are always stressors and pressures in life, as in business. Hopefully, few of us will find ourselves having to lead others through high water and downed power lines.  But, by being prepared for the potential of Emergency Leadership one day, you can rise to the situation better equipped and more able to make order from chaos.

Disaster Project Management: 5 Important Steps

Lately, no matter where you turn, there are natural disasters, man-made chaos, and just plain craziness going on worldwide. No one can manage chaos. But what you can do is prepare yourself and others to handle complex and critical situations.

The Washington Post via Getty Images: Kingwood, Texas August 29, 2017

Hurricane Harvey and the South Asia floods showed us 2 examples of the need for leadership, preparation, and organization. Every person on the planet, and especially every project manager, should have a plan in place for how they are going to deal with critical situations.

Though you may have never experienced this type of chaos before, whether in business or in your personal life, everything you have ever learned has prepared you for this moment in time. Of course, a late product delivery is in no way a match to the enormity of 500-year flood, but the same management principles apply.

  1. Put competent people in critical positions. When the world is falling apart, you need to place people around you whom you trust, who can be honest and give you straightforward feedback. This is not the time for politics.
  2. Leverage your team.  Delegation is key. It would be great if your team knew the mission before hand so that everyone could pull together for the same goal (hence why local rescue teams stage emergency drills), but that is not always possible. So, level set your team as soon as you can. And make sure that you listen to your team and trust their capabilities. One person cannot handle disaster recovery alone.
  3. Efficiency is critical. Crash the schedule down to its critical path and make sure everything the team is focused on is relevant to the outcome. In times of urgency, even the smallest waste is a hindrance.
  4. Check your EGO at the door. Good leaders need good relationships – across teams, with other departments, agencies, companies, vendors. This is not a time for chest bounding. It is best if you develop relationships before you need them in a crisis, but if you can only do it now, be humble and you will get more cooperation from others.
  5. Be physically and mentally prepared.  As the leader, making sure that your body and mind are in the best shape, at all times, gives you the edge when difficult situations arise. We all handle situations better when we are rested and in tune with ourselves.

One thing is for certain, at some point you will be faced with a critical situation and you may never know when or where it came from. It is our job as project managers to mobilize and lead the way out of the trouble waters. These 5 steps are just the beginning, but if you get no further, at least you can get stable.

My prayers are with the victims of the most recent catastrophic events. May you have good managers leading you and a resilient attitude.


3 Spring Training Tips For Business Coaches


It is great to see all the coaches out there with the kids on the fields now that it is spring in the east.  All the little sweaty people running back and forth trying to build up stamina for the big game to come.  Drills and drills and laps and more drills. Practice, practice, practice.  It made me think about my role as a leader and how I coach other people to their personal best.

The word ‘coach’ brings to mind sports heros like, Knute Rockne and Vince Lombardi.  And, when I think of a sports coach, I think of someone who is focused on one thing: winning.  Even though the great coaches care about the players, everything they are doing is to drive the team to the win at the end of the game.  Vince Lombardi, Head Coach of the Green Bay Packers, said “Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all-the-time thing.”  He accepted nothing less than first place and said that second place was the ‘first loser.’

Here is an example of the most driven coach in history:

I learned a great deal studying sports coaches, and one of those things is that organizational coaching is completely different.  The goal for organizational coaching is about the individual and what they learn through the process. “Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.” (John Whitmore, Coaching for Performance).  There is a lot to be learned from the sports analogy but in the workplace, coaching is about the relationship between me and the person I am coaching.  There are several things that are important from my side as the coach:

coaching-e13078629095151.  I must be fully engaged with the process and make sure that I am pushing my protege in such a way as to get them to be moving forward.  Too many times people wait until the other person brings them problems.  When I coach, I set up an agreement with the protege upfront and have defined things that s/he is working on.  This relationship is about challenging the other person to improve, to develop new skills or new capabilities.  The responsibility to figure out how to get them going sits with me.

2.  I must be an active listener and come prepared with the right questions to engage the protege.  Sometimes it is hard with all the distractions around, especially when 90% of my coaching is over the phone and on-line, but the other person deserves my undivided attention.  If I am not paying attention, then why am I doing this and who is it benefiting.  I make sure to block off sufficient time in my calendar to focus on the protege and the challenge.

3.  Coaching for me is also about providing guidance that the other person could not get on their own (or at least not easily). I am here to teach them to fish, not to fish for them.  My goal is to provide my protege with tools that they can use going forward that will enhance their abilities, help them make decisions and solve problems, so that over time, they can be self sustaining.

Do you Coach? Do you have a Coach?  If you could only give one piece of advice to your next protege, what would it be?


Keep up the good attitude. See you next blog.

– Lorian

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