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  • July 2016 Client Newsletter banner

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Last month in Bangkok, I had the privilege of providing a keynote address to the World Travel and Tourism Council’s 2017 Global Summit. What I told the assembled government ministers, industry CEOs and many others who were present was this -

“I have been to two events that have killed almost 250,000 people – that is 250,000 human beings who died within a matter of minutes. Routinely, I will go to an incident that has resulted in the injury or death of dozens to hundreds of people, caused by terrorist attacks, accidents and/or natural disasters. That is my reality and our reality at Kenyon.”

Prevention, of course, is a good thing; it does work most of the time. It will not work all of the time, however. Companies, governments, CEOs and elected leaders need to accept that it is not a matter of “if” but a matter of who, when and where. When it does happen, success is measured in the response to the event from the first alert to the complete transition of those involved to what will be their new normal. This is often a process that can take over a year. You cannot undo the event, you cannot make it better; your goal is to not make it worse. It is actually not that hard to do a good job.

However, far too often I see people, businesses and governments fail to recognize the severity and the consequences of the event. They operate and respond as if they are trying desperately to prevent the event that has just occurred as opposed to focusing on dealing with the consequences of what has happened. In other words they try to manage the event, not the response.

Successful leaders focus on the consequences. They start by saying they are sorry. They focus on people, not on saving their job or worrying about what they didn’t do – that will come out no matter what. In the end, you won't be judged on what you did, but on what you did not do. It's the choices a leader makes that will drive the anger, and often, the desire for prosecution, from those affected.

Successful leaders understand the emotional impact of the event. They focus on people and not on processes or bureaucracy – taking time to explain why things have to be done a certain way, who does what and how it will be done. They understand each person affected is different and it is their culture, religion and beliefs that matter the most, not those of the responders or leaders.

Finally, successful leaders understand and try to address the most important–yet often missed–need of those affected: their need to know what happens next and what it means for them. Good leaders make sure their response systems provide accurate, direct and transparent information, along with the explanation of what that information means to the people receiving it and how it will impact the decisions they will need to make.

None of this is new, just new people learning old lessons. Unfortunately, the cost to learn them is very high, ultimately borne by those who can little afford to bear it. So which leader are you? My hope is, if you’re reading this, then you’re the successful one.