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Leadership Crisis in Hurricane Katrina‚??s Wake

The effects of Hurricane Katrina are unprecedented in US history. Refugees without homes are not a common site in the United States. I do not blame Bush or anyone for not anticipating the magnitude of this tragedy. However, the reaction to the crisis is where our leaders failed the victims of this natural disaster.

I was glad to see President Bush finally take responsibility for the government’s lackluster performance following the crisis on the gulf coast due to Hurricane Katrina. As the Chief Executive, he is ultimately responsible for the actions of the federal government – good or bad. Whether you like the guy and his politics (apparently only 39% of you do according to the latest approval ratings), I believe that his acceptance of responsibility is a demonstration of good leadership. This small ray of light comes after two weeks of leadership void. His next step should be to take decisive actions to correct the mistakes of the past two weeks.

This lack of official reaction and therefore lack of leadership in the days immediately following the disaster is remarkable to me. What surprises me about this situation is that there was so much opportunity for great leadership. Initially, the common plight of the Katrina victims provided a natural cohesion in this group. Likewise there was a natural unity and bond among the citizens of this nation that desperately wanted to help the victims. What lacked was a leader that offered a clear plan to provide hope to the victims and opportunities to serve to so many volunteers.

Think how things would have been different for the citizens of New Orleans if any one of the government officials would have decisively taken charge. How would the lives and futures of Mayor Nagin, Governor Blanco, former FEMA director Michael Brown been different if they would have stepped into the void and supplanted chaos with order, despair with hope. Where would the approval ratings of President Bush be if he had stepped into this situation with action?

In crisis, a clear thinking leader relieves anxiety and enables effective solutions. Mayor Giuliani distinguished himself as a great leader in the immediate aftermath of attacks on the World Trade Center bombings on September 11, 2001 exactly four years ago precisely because he understood and implemented this principle. He provided authority. He was decisive. He took action. He walked through the rubble. He unified. There was no question he understood the suffering and plight of the victims and the immediacy of the situation. The people of New York believed that there was a plan to help and to heal. That not only comforted victims and families but energized volunteers.

In the few critical days following Hurricane Katrina, it seemed know one knew what to do and those that tried to take action were thwarted by the bureaucracy of FEMA. In times of adversity and crisis, it is vital that a leader take control of the situation. Leadership and authority is the antidote to chaos and anarchy. The people of New Orleans were desperate for the basic needs of life – food, water, shelter. When those items were lacking they cried for help. When there was not a leader that stepped forward to provide a decisive plan of action, the people lost hope and the looting began.

Winston Churchill once said that “An accepted leader has only to be sure of what is best to do, or at least have made up his mind about it.” Add to that the Nike slogan of “Just Do It” and I think you have a superior yet simple guide to leadership in crisis.

1 Comments/Trackbacks

» Leadership Defines New Orleans Mayoral Race from LeaderNotes
The effects of Hurricane Katrina may be felt by New Orleans for years to come. Much has been done to put the devastation in the past. However, the mayoral election of New Orleans has dredged up the memory of Katrina. As New Orleans&rsquo... [Read More]

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