This past week in New York City we were told to brace ourselves for the blizzard of the century.
But the blizzard never came to New York City, and many were not only disappointed but angry with the city's leadership.
However, there are important leadership lessons--lessons around how New York got many things right--that can serve many leaders in crisis situations:
Communication: We were told clearly, concisely and repeatedly to stay off the streets and that the subways would be shut down at 11pm. It was a inconvenience to many, but no one had to wonder what was happening. And because New York took it seriously, so did New Yorkers. Even with only 8 inches of snow, roads and highways were able to be cleared quickly and efficiently.
Leadership lesson: Communicate your plan with a clear and consistent message and give as much direction as possible so people can understand and follow.
Prompt action. The mayor and governor acted immediately to develop a strategy. Snowplows were on standby; transportation was shut down with only emergency vehicles allowed on the streets. When a crisis strikes, you don't have time to form a subcommittee or second-guess yourself.
Leadership lesson: Act promptly and make swift decisions that call upon everyone to be on the same page. Doing so avoids panic and under preparation. Come up with a plan and follow it through. Act quickly and set it in motion.
Documentation. New York's plan was built on its earlier experience with blizzards, and what was learned in this one will help inform the action taken in future storms.
Leadership Lesson: Keep thorough and accurate records of everything--planning sessions, crisis management team meetings, decision-making processes.
Coordination. A constant loop of public information provided not just the expected resources but hotlines to call in case of any problem or emergency.
Leadership Lesson: Have stakeholder relationships in place ahead of time, with plans to work together to cover all contingencies.
Review. A post-crisis review included apologies for the snow that never came--but no one talked about how well it all went. I don't think an apology was necessary, and I give my city an A in crisis management. Better safe than sorry; better over prepared than under prepared.
Leadership Lesson:Appoint a team (with different membership from the crisis management team) to assess the response and recommend changes in procedures.
So our little blizzard of the century did not happen--but if we consider this a practice test, a drill of sorts, when crisis hits we will know better and do better. It's far better than saying we were unprepared, and it was a disaster.
Frankly, there were other parts of the country such as New England that really did experience an awful snowstorm. So we should be grateful--as well as show compassion for those less fortunate.
Bottom line. Why not give our leadership, ourselves, and our forecasters a break and remember Jan. 27 as a day we spent quality time with our families and took a little break from our busy hectic lives.