The importance of a plan, whether in a time of crisis or simply within the structure of our typical day-to-day, cannot be understated. Whether you are a corporate executive or a stay-at-home mom, both of these leadership roles require intention and strategic planning in order for the day to go as planned. As an educational leader, two of the most valuable planning tools I have discovered (that benefit both my personal AND my professional life) can be obtained at the end of this article.
Due to the chaotic nature of a crisis, the strategic development of an emergency plan is a critical first step, and should be at the top of any new or veteran leader's to-dos when assuming a new role, or even starting a new quarter of the year. Creating and reviewing plans with a critical lens and with the involvement of a team of stakeholders will better prepare you not for if, but when a crisis occurs. Let me give you an example from my own leadership experience. Have you ever had a bomb threat on Day 4 of your new leadership appointment?
When a Crisis strikes
It was the fourth day of my principalship at a small-ish high school in the West Valley of the Greater Phoenix Area. It was August, and the day could not have been balmier, being mid-monsoon. In fact, there was a layer of puffy, somewhat ominous clouds across the barren fields to our east. A storm could easily pop up at any moment.
Inside the building, however, it was business as usual (if we knew what usual was on the fourth day of the school year). I was in the front office clarifying some information with my administrative assistant when a student came up with a note and urgent look in his eyes. "Mrs. Alessio, I think you're going to want to see this."
What transpired thereafter was a whirlwind of rapid decision-making and confident execution of an emergency plan that to this day I can't remember with clarity. On the note, you see, was a picture of explicit writing on one of our student restroom stalls that indicated that a bomb would be let off at 1:00 PM. It was 12:37 when we received the note. At that moment, we spun into crisis-mode and without having a carefully executed Emergency Plan that we had diligently reviewed and revised over the summer, I would have been significantly less confident in how to proceed.
I won't thrill you with the details of how the day played out for the sake of today's learning; however, the moral of the story is this: Without a premeditated expectation of a crisis, how can we be confident that when an emergency arises, we will be equipped to navigate the chaotic waters of an unanticipated storm? Without something to draw upon from our memory, could we truly have the clarity to act with the decisiveness necessary to keep our people safe? I have to believe that due to to preliminary strategic planning, I was confident enough in our fire drill procedures to know that the quickest way to exit a building and ensure student safety was to pull the fire alarm and evacuate our campus. In doing so, we were able to keep our students and staff safe in the face of a perceived threat.
Planning for a premeditated Leadership crisis
So, what does it look like to plan for a premeditated crisis? As a leader, I am always thankful for a clear pathway or checklist to follow, especially when beginning a new position or when navigating an unfamiliar circumstance. Here is a list I would recommend following if you are new to a position and/or conducting a quarterly crisis management/emergency plan review:
Planning for a premeditated leadership crisis isn't thrilling. In fact, it can be exhausting and it can take an emotional toll. Prioritizing this task as a leader, however, is critical to preparedness in the face of a crisis. Even when the crisis is unprecedented at a global level, you will have built a capacity to lead with perseverance in a time of chaos and stress in a way that many who lack the foresight to plan are unable to do. For that, your team and your community will thank you.
Linger a Little Longer:
1. As a leader, how did you feel about emergency preparedness planning prior to reading this article?
2. How have your feelings evolved throughout the reading of this post?
3. What changes can you make to day to build your capacity to lead when a crisis does arise?
To receive planning resources catered to your unique position/need, please enter your email below with the following information: What is your current position? What planning documents would be most useful to you right now (example Emergency Planning templates, a general daily planning tool, advice on a daily routine to maximize leadership capacity, etc.). Let's support one another as a community and stop striving to reinvent the wheel!