Leadership is a complicated concept. Many people simply think of it as having some form of ‘control’ over others, however that form of leadership usually fails in achieving the desired results. Generally speaking, the best form of leadership taps-into and channels the positive energy of others into a cohesive and focused effort that achieves the needed objectives of the team. ‘Giving orders’ may work for military operations because of the penalties for failure to follow orders, but in civilian operations, I believe the best leaders solicit and garner the cooperation of the people around them.
So let’s consider the importance of leadership (leaders) during times of crises and disaster.
For the purposes of this exercise, let’s assume for the moment that we are in or near a city (as most people are) and we are engulfed in an un-folding or post-disaster scenario that has the vast majority people around us in a state of panic and desperation. Regardless of your high-level survival strategy, this is a very dangerous and fluid situation, which requires timely and precise responses if we are to escape and survive.
It is at times like this that having a single point of leadership is most valuable to the group. Time is everything in a disaster where minutes and even seconds can make a significant difference in an outcome. It is at times like this that the democratic process doesn’t work; there is no time for a meeting with coffee and donuts. When you are engulfed in a disaster that is unfolding around you and your group, the little time that is available to take the proper course of action in response to the situation must be effectively and immediately used. Here is where experience and training along with a strategy are more valuable than gold or diamonds…
All other things being equal, the best leader will be the person with the most experience and training, and that person may not be who you would expect. That person may not be the most physically fit person or a John J. Rambo type. Ideally, if you have a disaster preparedness group, this person will be known to the rest of the group, and if logic and common sense prevail, you will survive with some luck. However, in an unorganized survival and escape situation, time permitting, a leader must be adopted quickly and that person must be the best qualified. In order to maximize odds for survival, a group must think and act as a cohesive unit and that requires a group leader.
So what are the qualities of a leader who would optimize your odds of survival?
Sir Ernest Shackleton
This is a tough question, but there are general characteristics that are found in almost all good leaders (not in any particular order).
- A moral person who considers the people in the group before oneself.
- A person with experience and training that provides the best possible overview and assessment of all possible options before taking decisive action.
- A person with excellent listening and communication skills.
- A person who understands social and psychological situations.
- A person who is compassionate yet disciplined and fully capable of making the ‘hard’ decisions.
- A person who knows how to ask-for and get the cooperation of others.
- A person who is not a liability to the group due to some serious medical or physical condition.
As we consider the list and the characteristics listed, it’s easy to envision scenarios where each and every one of those characteristics would have an important impact. As merely one of dozens of examples: When Sir Ernest Shackleton was stranded with his men in the Antarctic during the polar expedition of 1914-1917, he made certain that his men had the warmer fur-lined sleeping bags, while the officers of the expedition ended-up with the less-warm wool sleeping bags. This and other selfless actions taken by Shackleton helped to maintain the morale of the men under his command and ultimately not a single man was lost during that epic test of long-term survival.
If you are part of a disaster preparedness group, it may be wise during ‘good-times’ to collect and verify background information (experience and training) on everyone in the group so that information can be carefully considered by the group as a whole before-hand. That last thing anyone needs is to find-out (too late) that someone in the group was convicted of some anti-social behavior, and then have that anti-social tendency resurface during a crises.
Look at the recent surprise with Mr. Tyler Smith who as it turns out is a previously convicted felon (sex offender) and was recently arrested on firearms charges. Who needs a team leader like that?
There is value in engaging in group disaster and survival training; the group can experience interpersonal dynamics which will provide insights into the personal characteristics of everyone in the group (one of the values of group training). As a result of the collected background information and group interactions during training, the group should be able to make the logical team leadership assignments. This is not something you want to be trying to do when disaster strikes! Get it done now.
Cheers! Capt. Bill
Capt. William E. Simpson – USMM