As the 100th anniversary of the Titanic's sinking has been commemorated in recent days, one can't help but be reminded of the magnitude of this tragedy. Hundreds lost their lives, some families severed their lineage, and others survived, but barely.
As a public relations practitioner, I can't help but wonder what, if any, crisis communications plans were prepared before that fateful day. I wonder if architects and engineers involved in the project, but not taking part in the voyage, contemplated a worse case scenario. What about the project's investors? Then there are the industry leaders and elected officials of that era. Were any of them prepared on how to deal with victims, families, lawyers, manufacturers and countless others following the sinking of what was promoted as unsinkable?
Surely, businesses today are much better prepared especially when crisis situations can change by the hour. A politician is caught doing something stupid; a company unexpectedly files for bankruptcy; a community leader is busted; a natural disaster strikes; the list of potential crises is endless.
Recent research shows that the traits of a good crisis manager just happen to coincide with the traits of a good leader, not a surprising thought for PR war horses like myself, but perhaps a heads up for those making decisions about leadership positions. Fortune recently published an article called What Makes an Ideal Crisis Manager? that cites Justin Menkes, author of the recently published book Better Under Pressure. He concludes that the people who are going to thrive in the future "are those who can use the pressure (of a crisis) to excel and who have translated very difficult circumstances into opportunity." Hmmm....
Per the article, the three key characteristics of a good leader and crisis manager are:
* Realistic optimism. Exceptional leaders demonstrate an ability to understand the actual circumstances of a crisis and see a chance to excel.
* Finding order in chaos. This combines calmness, clarity of thought and a drive to fix the situation. It requires practice to stay clear-eyed and fearless when the world is tipping. It also requires zeal to solve a puzzle by engaging your staff.
* Subservience to purpose or corporate goals. The commitment to the higher calling or the greater good can make a huge difference. By encouraging a team to come together around some important goal, it cultivates tenacity and encourages collaboration.
Some execs will still run around with their head on fire as they can't help themselves, which makes a crisis communications plan all the more important. However, those managers who prove themselves to be exceptions to the rule by working well under pressure will survive - and thrive.