Home > Leadership, The Monday Musings Column > keep calm and carry on? it would be nice if we did

keep calm and carry on? it would be nice if we did

Seeing the lines of cars queuing for petrol got me thinking about how prepared we are for when things go wrong. You can’t foresee everything of course, but experience tends to help you come up with ideas as to how best to cope with things that you’ve not expected. The trick is often not to over react to a problem; why are all of these people queuing for petrol and creating an artificial shortage (and a lot of traffic chaos)? They have panicked on a wave of media hype when there was no real need to and some of the stupidity that has been reported is beyond belief.

However much I bemoan the decline in personal responsibility it is a fact of life that the world has changed from the one that I grew up in and people are much more prone now to overreaction these days; witness the premier league match being abandoned recently because the players were too upset to play on (on their wages!) after one of their number collapsed through cardiac arrest. Abandoning the game? I can offer Bert Trautmann playing on in goal with a broken neck, Colin Cowdrey walking out to the middle to help force a draw against the West Indies having had his arm broken by a first innings delivery, Terry Butcher playing on soaked in blood from a head wound, need I go on? Folks were made of sterner stuff in my younger days.

It is a strange phenomenon, but people trying to escape a danger do tend to put themselves in greater danger. Those who were afraid of running out of fuel wasted it by making an unnecessary journey and, from what I witnessed walking past a couple of queues, wasted more by leaving their engines running while they waited. As for those putting petrol in paint tins and the like… And then there is the classic panicky ruch for emergency exits or lifeboats where people put themselves and others in a danger every bit as great as the one that they are trying to escape from. But if people will react like this, what does it mean for those of us who have to manage in a crisis?

Communication is one thing as we have seen from the panic petrol buying, and we have to be able to communicate in a way that is clear and authoritative to ensure that people understand what has to be done, how and when. The other factor is leadership and we need to be visibly in charge of the situation to make sure that we can control things as we need to. And that means that all of our team need to be doing their bit at leading as we will likely be dispersed and each of our team need to be doing the leading in the area that they have been assigned to.

Leadership and communication are what makes the difference, but these two require something I think that I can best describe as character. I wrote here a few months back about the local supermarket where the fire alarm went off and  the employees were shoving customers out of the way and shouting “Fire, get out”. On that day there was no leadership on display and very little of the right sort of communication from those who should have been showing a bit of character.

Ironic that Keep Calm and Carry On has become a bit of an iconic statement of late. Shame people don’t seem to follow that advice; it comes from a time when we knew how to behave.

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