Managing a crisis.

“The Chinese use two brushstrokes to write the word crisis. One brushstroke stands for danger, the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of danger but recognize the opportunity”

John. F. Kennedy

A few years ago on what seemed like a typically slow Sunday evening at the New York Palace Hotel, the Security Officer in charge told me that New York Public Works Dept. had inadvertently cracked a water main outside our hotel during what was supposed to be a routine maintenance operation.

At that point we were reassured that it did not pose any immediate danger to our building, that they were well in control of the situation & working to contain the damage. Unfortunately as it often happens in a crisis, no one actually anticipated the scale of the situation & a few hours later by 5am on Monday morning guests were waking up in rooms that either did not have any running water or in some cases no power and a hotel surrounded by vehicles from the NYPD, Fire Dept., Officials from the NY Dept. of Emergency Management as well as representatives of the local media.

To make a bad Monday morning worse, we were informed that the water main leak hadn’t been fully contained, water had seeped into our basement (which is where the majority of our computer systems & electrical switches for the entire building were located) and we were just a few minutes (or a couple of inches) away from having to evacuate an entire 54 story building with 900+ guest rooms at a 100% occupancy.

The admirable way in which we all responded to this crisis has prompted me to list a few points that were crucial to our handling of the situation.

Keep calm & carry on

Despite what you might be actually feeling, try & stay calm. Not only will this have a positive effect on everyone around you but in turn will also help you in being able to logically analyze the situation & then chart an appropriate reaction.

Know who’s in charge (in the absence of anyone else, assume control yourself)

There is nothing like a crisis for defining the true character of a person. While some people will automatically step forward & assume control, others will retreat to the background & try and distance themselves as much as possible from the immediate fallout area. As a leader, make sure you are in the former category.

Strategize & organize priorities

Despite the nature of the crisis it is extremely important to have a basic plan of action in place. It should be organized in order of “extremely important & requires immediate attention to least important however require to be done”.

Identify your resources & utilize them sparingly

It is also crucial to identify what resources you have at your disposal but ensure you are using them sparingly since no one can really predict how long the crisis may last. Think of it like rationing water when you’re marooned on a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean.

Don’t play the blame game

The middle of a crisis is not the time for “I told you so’s”, finding out what was overlooked or the person(s) responsible for creating the situation. There will be enough time for that later.

It shouldn’t take a crisis for you to appreciate your team or to understand the true value of one

Ensure that as a leader you are creating a positive culture where people are comfortable enough to own up to their mistakes, ask questions when they are not a 100% sure on how to perform a certain task as well as support each other towards a common well defined goal.

Luckily my earlier story has a happy ending where we were able to contain the leak before the building had to be evacuated. Despite the obvious discomfort they experienced, the majority of the guests were extremely grateful on our adept handling of the situation & left raving about our communication & teamwork.

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