Chapter Eleven The Reputation Payoff: The High Stakes of Crisis Leadership

Executive Summary: When a crisis strikes, people look to leaders for guidance and reassurance. Crisis leadership requires more than presenting a calm face; it requires understanding how humans function under extremely stressful conditions and knowing which leadership techniques will help people regain their composure and begin working together effectively to resolve the crisis.

In Chapter 4, we discussed the value of positioning crisis management as a tactical capability within a larger framework of Reputation Strategy. In this chapter, I’d like to backtrack just a bit and take a deeper dive into the difference between crisis management and crisis leadership.

Today, organizations are expected to demonstrate competency in everything they do, including crisis management. No one will applaud you for merely remaining calm. When disaster strikes, people need more than reassurance—they need leadership. Increasingly, the ability to provide genuine leadership in a crisis is foundational to Reputation Strategy.

Eric McNulty has extensive experience exploring high-stakes crisis leadership. His official title is director of research and professional programs and program faculty at the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative (NPLI), a joint program of the Harvard School of Public Health and the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. He’s also an instructor at the Harvard School ...

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