Disaster Recovery and the Work of Leaders

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Project Manager, PMP, Career coaching, Leadership Coach, Business Coach

Leaders make a big difference.

Tornadoes have ripped through southern cities.  Data center managers prepare for an electromagnetic pulse that will shut down the University hospital.  A specialist dies with irreplaceable information known only to him.  Disaster can come in many forms.  Leaders are often called to handle the recovery.

What should a responsible leader do in the face of an unexpected disaster?

Assess the scope of the damage.   Gets some measurements, and act to contain the disaster.  Verify what must be replaced, and what can be restored.  Set some priorities for this problem.

Identify resources and extended resources.   Look beyond the ordinary – you are recovering from a disaster after all, put some pressure on.  Put together the resources that will help you recover, and then think harder.  You have friends that will help!  Call ‘em up.

Verify where action is needed first.  Some situations need immediate attention – and the priority is five bells urgent.  Use your leadership instinct and your career experience.  Apply 130% of the needed resources to the must urgent problem, and deal appropriately with all the other challenges in declining order of severity.  Should you really apply 30% more resources to the top problem?  Sure, if the need is compelling, and the resources are available.  Get the top problem solved quickly, and you will have support from executives and investors.  Show ‘em what it takes to execute on a problem.

Delegate authority for rapid decisions. Concentrate your effort on the most important problems.  Appoint others who will work on the second tier of challenges.  Put good people on these problems.  If a disaster is on your hands, then tell them “Get the job done.  Make your best decision, and I’ll support you.  I’m not going to second-guess your work, but if you want my input, all you have to do is ask.”  There.  Delegate it.  Let others do their best work as leaders.  If you have been building their response-ability in calmer times, then they will know how to act under pressure.

Determine what the communications chain will be.   So, who is going to talk to the employees?  Who is going to talk to the press?  Think about the character of the message for the public as well as internal stakeholders.  What can you do to make this message persuasive – and short.   Let the spokesperson handle this job.  Everyone else must be working on the disaster.

Request assistance for covering the crisis.  This is a special situation – so there are people who will be there to help.  So accept it.  Manpower and resources can help you return to situation normal.  I do understand that it does take management time, attention and work to skillfully employ volunteers.  Do it anyway.

Do you have any skills that could help us recover faster that we don’t know about?”  Ask this question to everyone involved in the recovery.  Show people that they matter, and that if they can make a difference, the door is open for them to do so.  Let this message of positive appreciation and query go out to everyone who touches your recovery, no matter what their status is in the organization, or even if that person is an outsider or a volunteer.

Special rules govern the treatment of disasters.  Although leaders always make a difference, the right leader at the time of a meltdown can save an organization from ruin.  Use all of your talents to bring the situation back to a normal state.

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