Dallas/Ft. Worth, Texas
Private Investigator/USAR Responder
"Zig when others zag ..."
Why they're a Crisis Leader:
The journey to ‘crisis leadership’ is not the same for everyone.
For some, they learn to operate in a crisis-filled environment, then gradually develop leadership skills to lead others in that environment. Many fire and law enforcement crisis leaders come to mind.
For others, they gain leadership acumen over time, and then when a crisis occurs, they step into the moment to lead. Many business leaders come to mind.
For me, I suppose it’s a little bit of both.
However, since I never started out to be a crisis leader, it’s also a bit strange to refer to myself as one now.
So why am I included in this interview project? For starters, my wife encouraged me to participate. Besides being a good steward of her advice, she also suggested it might be hypocritical if I didn’t. Fair point.
Because my background is non-traditional, my experiences have provided me with a much different perspective than most folks.
#1 "What is a Crisis Leader?"
Click to read a transcript of the answer "What is a Crisis Leader?"
What is a crisis leader?
A crisis leader is someone who is a leader of themselves, and then is a leader of others.
They lead with courage and competence and compassion, and they make sure they get to an acceptable conclusion of the crisis, whether it's big or small, even if it's messy along the way.
#2 "What's an example when you relied on your own Crisis Leadership?"
Click to read a transcript of the answer "What's an example when you relied on your own Crisis Leadership?"
Two examples of crisis leadership of my own experience.
The first one dates, I guess in the 1990s, I managed a private investigative office.
I had a secretary, I had a staff of investigators. We were quite successful focusing on one area of business that involved the investigation of intellectual property rights, or counterfeiting diversion, cargo theft, that sort of thing, for a pretty impressive roster of international customers, clients, that made consumer products.
Most of the targets of our investigation were criminals, and some of them were organized criminals.
And so, we would work when we had enough evidence, we would work with our partners within local, state, and federal law enforcement, in order to facilitate a criminal takedown and seizure and arrest of the offenders.
Again, we were pretty successful, and working through one of our informants we heard that one of the organized crime groups didn't find it very funny that were making such a large impact on their illicit dealings.
They sent the word out that me and my staff and family were to be killed.
It was not something that I had prepared really myself for, and it was pretty disruptive for all the obvious reasons. Initially, I really had no idea what to do, and did not exhibit much of any type of leadership, even though my staff was looking to me for that very thing.
It took about a day for me to kind of gather my wits and just started moving in a forward direction. I rallied the group and we decided we were gonna modify our operations a little bit with the way we communicated and traveled and worked our other cases, that sort of thing.
I had to contend with running a business because we had other paying customers. We had bills to pay.
And of course we had the extended families that were quite concerned that a job was gonna lead to potential harm to ourselves from others.
So, it was quite a crisis during that time and obviously, I spent some time networking with our partners in law enforcement to try to seek out the origin of that information to determine how viable of a threat it was to me and to my staff.
It was a trying time and what I discovered, it took about a week by the way for us to learn that the threat was a little bit overblown and while we were always vulnerable because of the work we did, there wasn't a real imminent threat to us being killed, which was a bit of a relief, but it really brought into focus the importance of crisis leadership.
And how I started not being a very strong crisis leader, but what I learned from that is that even though I didn't have a perfect plan, I took action.
I kept in mind what our priorities were, which is personal safety to those people that I was responsible for, and ultimately, we're able to look back on that as a stronger group and obviously, nothing happened to me or any of my staff.
So that was a crisis leadership example where I kind of started slow and ended a little bit stronger.
Another example would be in 2005, I was in New Orleans with my federal Urban Search and Rescue team, and we had responded to Hurricane Katrina, which was a hurricane that you probably know if you're seeing this in the modern era.
There was a tremendous amount of damage, it collapsed some levees and it flooded the city of New Orleans, with 10 to 20 feet of water in many places.
Early on, we, meaning our group, our forward operations group, had found kind of a beach head on the side of a highway. We were setting up to start to do some reconnaissance in the neighborhood and we were met by a citizen, that we ended up calling Boudreaux. He had his boat and he brought us a note that said, the note was from an apartment complex, and their manager saying they had some critically ill people and that they were out of power. They were under water, help, help, help, that sort of thing.
My operations chief handed it to me and to my partner and to the state trooper, and asked if Boudreaux could take us to that place so that we could size it up and determine what sort of response was necessary.
So the three of us got into Boudreaux's boat, so the four of us went an estimated two miles away from where we had put into the water.
Only Boudreaux knew where this was.
About a quarter mile away and we hit some dry ground, where the boat couldn't pass, obviously.
So, the three of us: Myself, Brad my partner, and the trooper, we waded through this water in order to get to this apartment complex where, sure enough, it was about eight stories high.
There was a lot of people milling around and when they saw us show up in uniforms, they thought it was gonna be a good day.
I had noted an area that was a little bit elevated and dry that would serve as a viable landing zone, and when we went into the apartment complex, everyone wanted a ride home. So I tried to get ahold of my team on the radio. I was unsuccessful, so I went to the roof, which I think was around seven or eight floors high, and tried to reach our forward base by radio and was unsuccessful, we just hadn't set up a network yet.
I did reach a passing helicopter, who told me that we needed to "take a number".
And about that same time, the trooper joined us and said that Boudreaux had taken off with the boat, and so now we were identical to everyone in the apartment complex.
We were stranded, and we were facing the same crisis everyone else was.
So at that point, my training, and our training, had always been focused on protecting ourselves, protecting our team, protecting our victim. And so I found that I mainly defaulted to that and felt like even though it was certainly an unpleasant situation, being in that environment without support and with anyone knowing where we were, I did feel like our team that we were, at least in the short term, gonna be okay.
And so after that, my focus really as a crisis leader was on putting the pieces together to come up with a solution. And that went to the welfare of the people in the apartment complex.
I encountered a surgeon who was in a kayak, paddling through the city, checking on folks, and I commandeered him and asked him if he would help perform some medical triage to determine who was the most critical.
There was another forward team from another USAR group that I contacted, or that they passed by the building, and so I contacted them and negotiated for them to divert from their mission in order to help us. They agreed to give me and my team a ride, and they agreed to give some of our evacuees a ride, the ones that were the most critical.
So, we eventually were able to make it out of there.
We were eventually able to help some people.
It was not the most ideal circumstance, but in retrospect, as I have retold that story before, it came across as a much greater crisis to the people listening than it did to me. Simply because we had a plan that was based on some core competencies, which is the importance of protecting ourselves, protecting our team, or protecting our victim. And then every objective grows out of those requirements in order to get to the finish line even though it was quite messy.
It was an imperfect situation, but I was gratified that we were able to leave New Orleans better than we found it.
#3 "What do you know now that you wish you knew then?"
Click to read a transcript of the answer "What do you know now that you wish you knew then?"
A list of things that I know now that I wish I knew then is a pretty long and distinguished list.
There are a couple of them that do jump out.
In no particular order one is the importance of embracing the importance of a repeatable process.
Automation is a very helpful tool particularly for crisis leaders that can institute planning processes, procedures, decision making matrices, checklists, that sort of thing.
Delegate those and it frees up that crisis leader to make some of the more strategic, weightier type decisions that we look to from those crisis leaders.
You don't have to know everything, you don't have to know everything, and you don't have to be able to do everything either.
That is part and parcel of a Type A leader that wants to do everything and be everything. But they're not gonna be very effective.
So I think early in our careers we try to do more than we probably should, whereas, when we learn that the art of delegation and we learn the art of collaboration, and relationship building and networking, and we can reach out to others that have a skill set that maybe we don't in order to augment our leadership.
Because remember leadership is not about us, it's about the people that we're leading and reaching a positive outcome. So, humility is an important aspect of that.
And the last one is, you don't have to be in the lead to be a leader.
And, this is something that has taken me a long time to learn personally because I don't come from a traditional military, fire or police background. And while I've had some notable leadership and crisis leadership roles, there has always been a bit of an outsider feeling that I have simply because I don't come from some of those traditional backgrounds.
And so, as I've learned to overcome that it's allowed me to grow more as a leader. And then the second part of that, is that everyone should be a leader and the best leaders that I know are empowering because they generate confidence and courage and compassion among the people that are followers to turn them into leaders as well.
And when that happens I tell you ‘Katy bar the door’ there's really no stopping that particular response, organization, et cetera.
So wherever we are in the organization whether we are on the outside looking in whether we are at the bottom looking up everybody can and frankly should develop, hone, and enhance our leadership skills.
And I wish I knew that then as I know now.
#4 "What advice would you give someone who wants to improve their own Crisis Leadership?"
Click to read a transcript of the answer "What advice would you give someone who wants to improve their own Crisis Leadership?"
The advice that I would give someone who wants to improve their own crisis leadership is one of my favorite questions because it really strikes at the core of what this interview project has been about and that is to pay it forward to those people that are coming up from behind, or behind us.
Those that are wanting to, as my dad used to call it, “improve the breed.” And there are some quality answers to this question and I'm gonna make an attempt to add to it if I can.
In no particular order, some of the advice that I would give is something that I pass along to my children, and I try to live my life this way and that is, don't be afraid to zig when everyone else is zagging.
There's a lot of good that can come out of that. There's maybe some unpredicted challenges that can come out of that as well but real insight comes from looking at things from a different perspective.
So there's a lot of information out there right now that you can find about the years and the history of a particular way of doing things, and while those are a good foundation items, I really encourage future leaders to also embrace maybe the non-traditional outlets for information as well.
And don't be afraid to be a little bit innovative, because that's ultimately where you're going to make the greatest improvements.
Relationships, oh my gosh, those are so important.
There's a mistaken belief that a lot of people have, unfortunately, that they must be the smartest person in the room. If you encounter this person run, because not only are they not the smartest person in the room, their hubris and their lack of humility is going to sabotage whatever it is you're currently working on together.
Seriously, run away.
The solution to that is to build relationships and to understand that you are not the smartest person in the room, neither am I, neither is anyone else for this interview project. But you can build relationships and when you find yourself in a predicament you can tap into that network and those relationships for them to bring their strengths to bear in the absence of the strength that you have yourself.
Know that crisis is messy.
And by understanding that you're dealing with a world of imperfection in a crisis, you're not just moving paper from one side of the desk to the other. You're actually managing and navigating through a very messy crisis by its very nature is going to be imperfect and when you understand it’s imperfect you're less likely to get caught up in some of the minutia and you're more likely and more empowered, I think, to stay focused on the finish line which is where, ultimately, you're trying to reach safely and swiftly.
The next one is going to be mindset and having a mindset that embraces maybe the worst possible scenario.
A lot of people might say that that's the last thing you want to do but in my experience if you know that the worst thing that can happen is gonna be lots of death and destruction and you know what that looks like and smells like and tastes like then you can come up with some pretty good mitigations to navigate around that.
But if you deny yourself and deny others what that worst case scenario will look like then when it happens, or if it happens, it's gonna surprise you and everyone else and that's not what we look for in a crisis leader.
So don't be afraid to venture into the dark side to imagine what that worst case scenario would look like because then you can come up with better plans to navigate around it.
And the last piece of advice that I would give, frankly, is to make sure that you are signed up for one or more of the newsletters at TEAM-Solutions.US. That's my site and I relentlessly share and create content focused solely on your improvement as a crisis leader.
#5 "Who is a Crisis Leader that influenced your career?"
Click to read a transcript of the answer "Who is a crisis leader that influenced your career?"
Who is a crisis leader that has influenced my career is probably the most unfair question. Simply because I got to pick the interview subjects for this project and every single one of them is a tremendous influence on me. For all the obvious reasons as you read and hear their stories.
I have had the opportunity to serve directly for some of them in this interview project and so I have seen their crisis leadership first-hand. Which is again why, one of the reasons why I selected them.
And some of the others, I have just been around them enough to really get a good sense as to the caliber of crisis leader that they are or were in their active career.
The next category of influential crisis leaders to me, and I have a couple of them, are all the lousy leaders that I had.
We all take it on the chin occasionally from having bad managers and bad leaders, I certainly am not an exception. And I've learned the difference between leadership and management, and I've also learned that bad leaders still can teach us something while we're actively trying to get away from them.
Because I try myself to have a growth mindset, and I'm attracted to those leaders that also are trying to continue to develop even after they've left their primary leadership role.
And so I'm always primed, therefore, to look for, listen for, and detect the presence of good leadership, wherever it may be.
Whether it's a child, whether it's a young adult, whether it's an aged adult, or even whether it's an organization that's run by people.
So the next leader that's out there, the next person or the person that I haven't met, influences me because I'm always looking for them, to learn from them.
And then the last influential crisis leader, frankly, is you.
Because as this project has developed, I have been inspired by the thought of being able to pass along some of these stories, some of these lessons to help you who is likely a new or emerging, or even experienced crisis leader that's just trying to be even better.
You're the reason that this project exists and so you are probably the greatest influential leader solely because you're the one that's going to be running the world after the rest of us are gone.