Why this job isn’t easy

August 28, 2006

Crises affect people’s lives, their careers, their aspirations. A crisis manager is called in when there is a lot at risk and asked to give advice and help make decisions that can very significant consequences. I am reflecting on this now because there are at least two situations where I have been called in recently where the impact on the people who have asked me for help has been considerable and painful. In both of those very different situations, I offered counsel that in my view was in the best interest of the organization. In one case, I advised that the organization go aggressively public with a decision they made that would be received very negatively by a number of people. In another, I recommended that key people in the organization resign for the sake of the viability of the organization itself.

In the last few days I was told by someone I respect how wrong I was on one of those counts. That has caused considerable reflection. I may be wrong. My judgments, experience, ability to scope out the situation and see all factors may be limited. I wonder, why do they ask me? Why put the burden of these critical questions on me? I am well aware of the anger, disappointment, sense of betrayal and even outrage caused by the recommendations I made. Yet, I have to remember that I didn’t cause the crisis. I was not there when critical decisions were made that could have prevented it from occurring in the first place. And I was asked for my best advice and judgment in very challenging circumstances. I know in my heart that in both cases my motives were pure, that I had no hidden agenda and was playing no games. I said what I thought with honesty and candor. I told them it was not an easy decision, that I may be wrong. Above all, it is not my organization and ultimately not my decision to make. My responsibility is to give the very best advice I can.

In both cases, after thinking and rethinking and now even with the benefit of hindsight, I gave the right advice I believe. Yes, damage was done. But I believe far less than if another direction had been taken. The problem is I can’t prove that and no one will ever know because the event unfolds based on the decision that was taken. I said and thought more than once in the last few days, I have to get another line of work. But I don’t mean it. The ability to make judgments knowing the pain that will result and the willingness and ability to stand firm even when you are being called names and your integrity is called into question is one of the traits of an effective crisis manager. Perhaps it is unusual for a crisis manager to be so open about the doubts, fears and uncertainties that are part of this job. I only hope that others who are in this position will know that they are not alone.

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