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HMC News: 5 steps every leader should follow to initially respond to a crisis

5 steps every leader should follow to initially respond to a crisis

Rule #1: be sympathetic

United Airlines chief executive, Oscar Munoz, spoke at a conference yesterday in Mexico and told attendees that one lesson he learned from last month's passenger dragging fiasco is that he "should have been more apologetic at first."1

If there is one key lesson leaders can learn from watching the United Airlines crisis unfold, it is the lesson Mr Munoz discovered the hard way: respond quickly with sympathy as your first step.

By not apologising quickly, United Airlines came across as unsympathetic at best – cruel and uncaring at worst.

Mr Munoz stated that rather than follow his instincts he got caught in a cycle of analysis. He said, "In a crisis of that magnitude evolving so quickly you tend to talk to too many people."

As a leader, when crisis strikes, you'll have any number of incredibly smart people ready to advise on how to handle your company's immediate, public reaction. Depending on the crisis, your advisors could include your legal counsel, communications advisor, human resources advisor, board members and a raft of others.

When crisis strikes, in those first few minutes it is critical as a leader that you do not get caught in 'analysis paralysis.' This can occur when there is so much advice, and some of it likely contradicting, that you act too slowly or do nothing.

And remember, when crises unfold on social media, your initial response must be incredibly fast.

So, what should you do? As a leader and company spokesperson, you need to follow five steps when crisis hits:

1.Take a deep breath and keep a clear head
2.Listen to your most trusted advisors only
3.Swiftly assess the advice
4.Consider your all-important 'gut feeling'
5.Act quickly with a sympathetic initial response

And finally, while it's important to consider advice from many different advisors when crisis occurs, remember that the best people to help you react swiftly and correctly are your communications advisors.

While there's space for all other advisors in the room and their opinions should be valued, your communications person is best trained in what the best, immediate reaction should be based on public mood.

Following these steps to your initial crisis response will go a long way toward keeping the public on side and minimising negative reactions as your crisis unfolds.

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