Crisis Leadership is better than Crisis Management

The Golden Hour and the First 24 Hours!

In the vast majority of cases, regardless of the duration, the end success or successful resolution to a crisis is determined by the initial actions in the first 24 hours. Often referred to as the “Golden Hour” in emergency medicine, the initial hour of the first 24 hours is the foundation upon which the primary phase is predicated. The events, information and decision making process during these two phases will place both individuals and multi national corporations upon a path that will over time will provide less opportunity for change and influence than at this juncture.


While the incidents and information injects, whether actively or passively collected, may change, the fundamental decision making methodology will remain relatively constant due to the leader or crisis management teams experience, skills and training. It is for this reason that the greatest emphasis due to the potential outcomes remains the burden of those in a position to determine the outcomes.gold_key_pc_400_clr-132x300.png

In broad terms, individual entities or multi-dimensional companies are classified into two categories when managing a crisis or significant event. The first of those categories is that of the Responder who is largely driven by the events and is forced to react to each and every information inject or demand due to the absence of preparation and planning joined with the lack or limitation on resources. The second of these two categories, and the most desired, is that to the Implementer who is characterized by the ability to activate resources and follow a pre-prepared and trained plan with the support of an array of supporting stakeholders, constructed responses and proactively formulated decision making guidelines that reduce the time from event to response.


The Implementer would typically be equally experienced as they are trained with significantly more emphasis on the latter. The primary and secondary phases of the first 24 hours will see the Responder desperately attempting to understand the situation, often with limited redundancy and support, while trying to time appropriate responses and activation of resources with little understanding of the strategic goals or longer term effects of these crucial decisions. This will be further exacerbated by the lack of experience or knowledge on the time taken to implement plans and the activation of vital resources.


In contrast, the Responder during the primary and secondary phases will be aligning support plans and stakeholders with preferred outcomes and anticipating events to potentially mitigate escalation of the situation or becoming reactionary focused. Typically the Implementer will seek to maintain a rapid escalation of support elements and appropriate resources with the option to then gradually deescalate or stand-down a range of options appropriate to the incident once they have sufficient control of information that the situation does not warrant the engagement of such resources or services.


History and more contemporary times are littered with examples whereby Government Leaders, Military Commanders, Corporate Leaders, Community Leaders and the like have failed to identify the impact of the events or incidents that have ultimately lead to an apparent disproportional result. Their failure or lack of appropriate response, relative to the potential impact and not necessarily the current information or perception, has lead to dire strategic consequences. As a result, it is these initial tactile decisions and responses that can in all likelihood determine the eventual outcome, favorable or otherwise.


The Golden Hour in medical terms is the most crucial time in which to both stabilize a patient suffering from significant injury or illness and to determine the best course of action in order to provide them with the most appropriate form of medical care supported by adequate resources. This decision making process is often done in remote locations, at the scene of an accident or within the emergency rooms of the nearest treatment facility. While this reference is centered more towards an individual or groups affected by such events the process and outcomes are indicative of the interaction it has with all the stakeholders affected and the commonalities faced by business in general.


Firstly, the affected parties may well be key elements to an organization or business that is dependant upon their contribution and will undoubtedly respond with all available resource for both the preservation of life and the continuity of business. Secondly, the process for escalation and decision making, including the activation of services and resources, will be made in the absence of a technical expert such as a doctor. As is the case with almost all business crisis in the initial stages. Even then, the measure to which any trained and experienced expert pertaining to crisis management will be limited to a large degree by the actions of the first responders and their support resources.


Tactile and spontaneous decisions made in the immediate stages of a developing incident that could lead to a crisis or disaster event have strategic consequences. These consequences may not affect an immediate impact but overtime could overshadow the incident itself. For instance, the decision to act in the absence of consultation or verification could result in legal, compliance, ethical, morale, code of conduct, medical or criminal violations to which the parent organization will be responsible, or held to account, for the actions of one or more responders. Irrespective of the fact that the decision at the time may have in fact saved lives, prevented further disasters or simply maintained business continuity the strategic consequence could be just the opposite.


While it is neither effective nor possible to script every potential incident and provide policy and processes to support such events, especially in the event of crisis, it can go a long way to mitigate many of the aforementioned issues and negative impacts. Even if during the post incident autopsy it is confirmed that a sound and consistent decision making process was employed with an appropriate degree of accountability and supported resources but ended in a less than favorable outcome, it will hold the organization and the individuals in far greater stead to know they did their utmost at the time but the situation was not recoverable despite best efforts and planning than to have made spontaneous decisions and decrees on the fly.


Enabling first responders, supervisors and crisis management elements to draw upon the collective knowledge of their peers and industry experts, with pretreated plans, budgets and designated resources appropriate to the risk and potential impact will significantly reduce the time from incident to response and prove to be a better overall strategy for the management of limited and significant crisis events. These plans should be both comprehensive and accessible to those that require access it but also simplified for immediate reference and implementation. This is equally applicable to any support services or resources that may be required in the event of particular incidents. Should partial or full responsibility of supporting this process be apportioned to external agencies or third party providers then they in turn should be equally if not more prepared for their roles and responsibilities. Sadly, all this amounts to nothing if the plan is not widely disseminated, trained and rehearsed with a degree of regularity to account for changing circumstances and new talent and roles.


While crisis management is often discussed and held up as the benchmark of preparedness and effectiveness, this is essentially still the realm of the Responder. In order to manage a crisis there is a disproportionate amount of time spent waiting for information injects, set circumstances, triggers and qualifying actions before implementing a plan that is known to be in existence and its results determined by the measure of its application. Crisis leadership is the true virtue of the Implementer. By proactively assessing events and mobilizing resources and the means in which to act before the situation demands, reduces the timeline of impact and in most cases reduces the overall affect the event/s may have on an organization and its personnel. It is often a far more cost effective application of resources also.


In the modern and developing business world there is simply more information and access to information than ever before. While this has lead to many efficiencies and advancements it has not advanced the capacity or effectiveness of crisis management elements at a comparable rate. If this were the case we would incur little to no crisis events and very incidents affecting organization and their personnel would ever need be reported in the media. Effective crisis leadership is learned by training and exposure with sufficient support services and resources. The critical time in which to apply this talent however remains the same, the Golden Hour and the first 24 hours. No amount of preparation and weighty plans will resolve undesirable events in the advanced stages as a direct result of poor leadership and management in the primary phases. It is therefore of paramount importance adequate depth, training and resourcing be focused on this pivotal stage.

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  • Tony,

    THANKS! This article has helped me pull together a couple of things I have been working on and I will be sharing it extensively across various Groups on Linkedin, as follows:


    True business leadership for a tough financial climate requires acceptance of responsibility: It is better to INVEST money in loss prevention/preparation...Resilience.

    The expensive option is to SPEND on insurance protection. Sharing the responsibility for the future of a business requires high levels of insurer/broker trust...Reliance 



  • The first 24 hours are indeed critical and can often make or break a crisis. As Churchill famously said "Plans are useless but planning is everything". So the work done before a crisis is the most important including training those that will be in charge when the crisis hits. There should be a clear distinction between tactical and strategic response to a crisis often addressed by separate teams under the label of Emergency Response Team and Crisis Management Team (CMT). Regrettably many CMTs are made up of functional resources in the organization and not always trained/adapted to the demands/roles of managing crises. In this context, crisis leadership and not just crisis management skills are essential and refer to leading the team(s) and the organization THROUGH the crisis. It's about behaviors and skills (including and not limited to) sense making, stakeholder mapping, scenario planning. This approach is the foundation of CS&A's crisis leadership training model for the last 20 years.
  • Dear Tony, 

    It is obvious you took a lot of time drafting this position statement, but your ideas need distilling.  Most writers will tell you that it is infinitely harder to write two pages than it is to write twenty. I agree with your initial premise--prompt, decisive action is preferred in all crises.  The rest, I don't really understand.

  • It again got posted in between. What I was saying is

    There are a lot of options which can be considered, once there is complete information available. The organization needs to urgently find some senior manager who is trustworthy and outside the immediate circle. This person should contact the responder and get full details. In crises situations, the responder is also at risk. The messanger of bad news gets beaten by the people who do not want the bad news delivered. So swift action is required.


    What do you think?



  • The got posted without the full stuff. I think in a major crises, what is required for senior management is that they should get trustworthy resources to contact the person who has full information of the situation. With this the decision making will be quicker and all the issues can be explained faster.


    An organization has various options here. For example, in reputation damage case, one needs to assess what kind of information is available with the person who is interested in filing a reputation damage case. If they have evidence, and what are the options which they can use, how exposed is the organization to it. If organization has been bending the rules, is this information available with the other party. If yes, who is the key person who can fight back on behalf of the organization. Is there a method available to turn tables and put the attackers on the defensive by lets say filing a case against them and not exposing oneself. If the attackers can be trapped into doing illegal activities, then whoever they are doing those activities against, can be asked to file a case against the attackers. The organization in this way can defend and protect the person who is frontending their case.


    For example, if X has put an unauthorized bug  in Y's house, can that be used against X.

    An assessment also has to be done on the people invovled and the financial resources available to them. For example, a group of small business men may not be in a position to fight an organization. So one needs to find out what political backing and contacts they have to take on an organization. If they are planning to attack an organization and are confident about it, then either it can be from immaturity or they have the right evidence and contacts.


    There are a lot of options which can be considered, once there is complete information available. The organization needs to urgently find some senior maanger who is trustworthy and outside

  • Nice article Tony and very appropriate.
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