For the past week, the news has been obsessed with volcanic ash in Iceland and its impact on most of Europe and around the world. The flights have come to a standstill in Europe and everybody seems to be caught off guard. No one seems to know what to do or how to deal with the stranded passengers on both sides of the ocean. Millions of dollars are being blamed in lost tourism, hotel stays and restaurants. You might wander how this act of nature can be so powerful. And you might ask, where is the leadership?
Something has gone terribly wrong with both government and business leaders not able to speak out and alleviate some of the chaos. I think at the hub of this malfunctioning is a group of leaders who forgot how to lead in a time of turbulence. Have we learned nothing about dealing with crises and the need for information and communication? A travel contingency plan needed to go into effect immediately so that visitors could embark on trains or boats to areas to Europe where planes could fly.
But what amazes me the most was the amount of fear and confusion that has emerged. Why did the leaders not have a back-up plan in place? In our own organizations, it is critical that leaders have contingency plans and envision what types of occurrences could shut them down. We need to plan for the unfathomable and then we need to put our emergency plans into action immediately.
When the unthinkable happens, a strong leader needs to communicate in a clear, assertive and calm way to their followers. Leadership needs to be transparent in the necessary steps to take to assure everyone’s safety and well-being. Leaders need to be trusted by their teams that they have a vision to think about a volcanic eruption as well as create a process to survive the chaos. It is only when we are put into a difficult situation and we successfully lead others out into calmer waters that our leadership skills are truly tested.