While Rudy Giuliani is making headlines nowadays for reasons that go beyond mayorship, we can nonetheless derive many leadership lessons from his actions following the attacks on the Twin Towers nearly 20 years ago. Shortly after that devastating event, I was asked to deliver a speech to the New York State Conference of Mayors and City Officials. Mr. Giuliani was not in the audience, but those who were benefitted, I believe, from an analysis of what he did to assure his fellow New Yorkers and fellow Americans that we would emerge from the catastrophe stronger than ever. The highlights of that analysis follow.
THE ABC’s OF VERBAL-READINESS
Preparing for disaster involves more than making systems secure and making plans for protecting the public. It also involves the ABC’s of verbal-readiness: Assuring co-workers/citizens, Building a press release, Controlling an interview.
A – Assuring Co-Workers/Citizens:
Following a crisis of earth-shattering proportions, a crisis demonically designed to cripple the most powerful country on earth, Rudy Giuliani led his city and, indirectly, the nation from chaos to confidence. How?
First of all he was there. He rushed to the scene and immediately established a command center. He was there and he was visible, taking charge of every aspect of the response effort. He thought comprehensively, ensuring the Big Apple was in the middle of the big picture. But he was there verbally as well, providing updates to the media as details of this unimagined horror spread through the country and through the world.
No one can tell you how to do your jobs. You are the experts. You have your emergency-preparedness plans. You know how to execute them. But if you wish to save lives and maintain calm, you must assure others you know how to do your job. That means constant media presence–whether you are giving updates, or overseeing the rescue/recovery efforts, or comforting victims and their families at hospitals. (And, if you’re not in a position to be seen, you can assist those who are.)
Remember those days and weeks following September 11: You never saw Giuliani on camera without a rescue worker jacket, an FDNY hat, or some other piece of clothing that symbolized heroes and heroic efforts.
Question #1: In the event of a disaster, what symbol would you select to persuade others that things were under control?
Question #2: Guiliani appeared always calm, confident, comforting. What specific actions or traits express confidence, comfort calm? What will assure your employees and, if need be, others in the larger community?
Question #3: Giuliani, as he as he directed the efforts for the buildings to be razed and ultimately, to rise again, helped us raze our fears. His words helped us rise to the occasion, an occasion that called for the best in the best. “I want the people of New York to be an example to the rest of the country and the rest of the world that terrorism can’t stop us,” he asserted. “We are going to get through this.” He called for help, for calm, for defiance, for bravery, for dignity. Leadership is seldom easy, nor is followership. In fact, Lee Iacocca tells us that we don’t need leaders to tell us the good news. We need leaders to tell us things we don’t want to hear and then get us to go out and do things we don’t want to do.
Create a sentence that will help the residents of your city or town or village rise to the disaster-occasion. What words will bring out the best that is in us?
Question #4: These are Giuliani’s Crisis Management Tips: What could you add to the list? Or how could you elaborate upon each?
1. Remain calm.
2. Get to ground level.
3. Formulate a plan.
4. Be human
5. Let others be human too.
6. Spread praise and encouragement around.
Question #5: These are the 10 leadership traits displayed by Rudy Giuliani. Rate yourself on each using a scale of 1-10 (high).
How have you/do you manifest your best qualities?
B – Building a Press Release:
REspond quickly, accurately, positively.
REcord (go on record with) your primary objective for sharing this information.
REstrict it to two paragraphs with ideally three or four main points and a conclusion.
REhearse, if possible, what you will say 10-20 times.
RElease as much information as possible about people.
REcognize, with examples, the beneficial actions already taken.
REly on (pre-determined) words that show compassion and command.
REfrain from using jargon, buzz words, or “insider” language.
REfuse to be provoked into saying things that might cause subsequent harm. (For example, “We should have been more careful.”)
REason with reporters. (For example, “We cannot release the names of victims because family members have not yet been notified.”)
REact carefully to challenging questions.
C – Controlling an Interview:
Establish ground rules.
Preview what will and won’t be covered.
Set a time limit.
BE AN ARTICULATE LEADER
Those whom we regard as masters of persuasion have studied their craft. They’ve developed “external awareness.” They’ve acquired specific tools and have learned to use them appropriately. You can do the same.
Among the most important qualities of leadership is clarity of thought, so evident in America’s Mayor all those years ago. After all, as James Hayes, former head of the American Management Association, assures us: “Leaders who are inarticulate make us all uneasy.”