Leading in crisis

  • Published
  • By Col. Philip Sweet
  • 934th Aeromedical Staging Squadron commander
Have you ever felt between " a rock and a hard place?"
Or if you are a mythology buff, between "Charybdis and Scylla?" The man-eating whirlpool and the six headed sea monster that terrified sailors off the Strait of Messina?

Wait ....you are a reservist and therefore used to navigating two difficult shores!
Wish you had someone to lead you out of the mess? That's when leadership skills are most important. Listen to my tale.

Last year, my military job provided me such a treacherous journey. As new ASTS commander I inherited an "HSI" ( Health Service Inspection) at a squadron that had failed five major findings previously. My civilian job went from a fairly predictable long term forensic unit to a fast paced adolescent unit. My work load tripled in both jobs!
I looked for inspiration. I found a timely book: 7 Lessons in Leading During Crisis by Bill George .

What I learned:
In minds of the highly driven, you have "Dueling Narratives" you must succeed at all times, and you must combat the specter of failure at all times. These extreme states produce paralysis and one's undoing.
So, first: focus on your positive capabilities, do worthwhile work where you can and exude "success."

Second: acknowledge your negative shortcomings, but don't dwell on them, don't let it erode self esteem, destroy us, or makes us fear rejection (self doubt lurks in every corner)

Third: resist the retreat inward, the stress of crisis accelerates. You can't be Atlas, bearing the weight of the world alone. Reach out for help.

Fourth: Be willing to be vulnerable, join with others, you take intelligent risks." Wayne Gretsky: "you miss 100 of the shots you don't take."

Five: Build resilience; get in the game for the long haul. Bill George said,  "Failure is normal. It's how you take it, respond, and overcome. Go for the 'single hit,' the home run can come later.

The result of my applying these principles? The squadron pulled together and put in thousands of hours of extra work aiming for a satisfactory rating but achieved an excellent HSI rating. I stuck it out at my adolescent unit till another position opened up in the forensic ward. Phew...

7 Lessons in Leading During Crisis , Bill George Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2009, San Francisco, CA