In the world of disaster response, we frequently experience examples of where the scale of the crisis exceeds the local ability to respond to the crisis, yet they don’t ask for help from outside. But this behavior is not limited to just disasters – it is something you see in companies and organizations all the time.
Sometimes the reason for not asking for help is a matter of pride – admitting your capacity to respond was not good enough for the worst case scenario you are going through can be hard. Sometimes the reason for not asking for help is expressed as some version of “outsiders don’t understand what we locals are going through. They will only come in and force us to do things their way – not our way”. I often refer to this as a version of the “not invented here” syndrome.
Some leaders believe that asking for help is a sign of a weakness. The truth is that knowing when to ask for help and having prepared for how to leverage that help is actually a sign of strength and good leadership. Understanding that your capacity to respond to a crisis will at some time in the future be exceeded is the first mental hurdle you need to overcome. To help you overcome that hurdle, in your mind, right now, picture a realistic worst case scenario you might have to deal with. Most likely you will find a few. Use these to help you overcome that initial mental hurdle of “I will never need help”.
Next think about how and where you would ask for that help. What capabilities would you require assistance with? Are there opportunities for you to identify providers of that help beforehand. It the emergency response world – we call those mutual aid agreements. Establishing those before you actually need them is key to effectively working with them during times of need.
Finally exercise the scenarios of asking for help. Identify the hurdles that you face in getting the assistance. Identify the difficulties you face in collaborating with others. Use these exercises to work out those issues – before you are in the midst of a crisis.
A true crisis leader understands that in times of crisis, they must leverage all possible ways to reduce the effects of the crisis – for the benefit of those affected. A true crisis leader never has to explain after the crisis, why outside assistance was not requested when it truly was needed. A true crisis leader understands that it is a sign of strength and leadership to prepare for and leverage outside assistance.
For more of my thoughts about crisis leadership, check out my book The Crisis Leader.
Published April 8th 2014 at LinkedIn