LEADING IN TIMES OF UNCERTAINTY
When do the people need a leader the most? The answer is, in times of uncertainty. When is it the most difficult to lead people? The answer is, in times of uncertainty.
I have found in times of crisis and uncertainty, the tendency is for people to freeze – they stand still. They basically say, “I don’t know if I want to make a decision.” On the other hand, leaders must constantly be leading, even in times of uncertainty.
One of the best examples I can use to illustrate how to lead in times of uncertainty is Rudy Giuliani because of his incredible leadership in New York City during the 9/11 crisis.
On the morning of September 11th, primary day of the New York City, Rudy Giuliani was paddling along with all the other lame ducks into oblivion. The tower of strength had become an object of pity: the iron man’s cancer made him vulnerable, the righteous man’s adultery made him hypocritical, the loyal man’s passions – for his city and its cops and its streets and its ballplayers – divided the city even as he improved it. After abandoning Gracie Mansion, his marriage in flames, he was camping out with a friend on the Upper East Side, and now it was time to choose his successor, and the end was in sight.
The end was, in fact, just a few blocks away. Having raced to the scene at the first news of the attacks, Giuliani was nearly buried alive. In the hours that followed, he had to lock parts of the city down and break open others, create a makeshift command center and a temporary morgue, find a million pair of gloves and dust masks and respirators, throw up protections against another attack, tame the mobs that might be looking for vengeance and somehow persuade the rest of the city that it had not been fatally shot through the heart.
It was an occasion to discover what they already were. “Maybe the purpose of all this,” Rudy Giuliani said at a funeral for a friend, “is to find out if America today is as strong as when we fought for our independence or when we fought for ourselves as a Union to end slavery or as strong as our fathers and grandfathers who fought to rid the world of Nazism and communism.” The terrorists, he argues, were counting on our cowardice. They’ve learned a lot about us since then, and so have we.
But at the dawn of the new millennium, New York mayor Rudy Giuliani emerged from the ashes of the smoldering World Trade Center rubble to calm a frightened and anxious nation. And by leading the city through a crisis of unimaginable horror diabolically designed to cripple the most powerful country on earth, Giuliani staked his claim as this century’s first great leader.
What happens when people are uncertain?
1. They look for security.
People that are uncertain want to hold onto something that they believe will give them security.
2. They reach out for hope.
Napoleon said that leaders are dealers in hope.
3. They do nothing.
The tendency is for them to freeze.
LEADING IN TIMES OF UNCERTAINTY – PART 2
In the last chapter, we focused on Rudy Giuliani’s leadership during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. I want to look at five things leaders do in times of uncertainty, while giving examples from Giuliani’s actions during this critical time.
We know what followers do — they look for security, they reach out for hope, and they have a tendency to be paralyzed and do nothing. But what do leaders do in times of uncertainty?
1. They study other leaders who have led successfully during similar times. Giuliani left the TV on through the night in case the terrorists struck again. He parked his muddy boots next to the bed in case he needed to head out fast. He was not going to do any sleeping. Lying in bed with the skyscrapers exploding over and over again on his TV screen, he pulled out a book — Churchill, the new biography by Roy Jenkins — turned straight to the chapters on World War II and drank in the Prime Minister’s words: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”
2. They give hope to others. On September 12, 2001, Giuliani issued this statement to the media: “We’re going to come out of this stronger than we were before. Emotionally stronger, politically stronger, and economically stronger;” Keep in mind that this was the very next day after the attacks. It is one thing to say something like that days or weeks after it happened; it’s quite another to stand up and say it so boldly and so immediately. In the midst of all the ruin and uncertainty, he found the strength to express hope.
3. They provide compassion to others. Giuliani was the consoler in chief, strong enough to let his voice brim with pain, compassion and love. When he said, “The number of casualties will be more than any of us can bear,” he showed a side of himself that most people had never seen before. It was both sad and inevitable that it took a disaster of this magnitude to bring out the best in him. It took the trauma for us to discover the tenderness he had possessed all along; he showed it through the kindness he displayed to widows and children of the fallen.
4. They show courage to others. Before 9/11 happened, Giuliani had a conversation with his father about courage and fear. “He was asked, ‘Were you ever afraid of anything,’ and he said, ‘Always.’ Then he said, ‘Courage is being afraid, but then doing what you have to do anyway.'” His statement in a press conference just hours after the attack was filled with courage: “We will strive now to save as many people as possible and to send a message that the city of New York and the United States of America are stronger than any group of barbaric terrorists. I want the people of New York to be an example to the rest of the country and the rest of the world that terrorism can’t stop us.”
5. They stay close to the people to give them security. With the President out of sight for most of that day, Giuliani became the voice of America. Every time he spoke, millions of people felt a little better. His words were full of grief and iron, inspiring New York to inspire the nation. “Tomorrow New York is going to be here,” he said. He also reacted to the assault with composure — he spearheaded every aspect of the city’s response effort, from stationing police officers at every subway station to regularly providing updates to the media as shock spread throughout the country and around the world.
I’ve witnessed times of crisis many times — nothing compared to this — but I’ve found that every time that people are uncertain and every time people are emotionally distraught, what they need more than anything else is the security of the presence of a leader, walking slowly through the crowds, listening to them, reaching out, hugging them, caring for them. In other words, just saying, “I’m here. I’m here for you. I’m here to serve you, I’m here to minister to you; I’m here to help you.”