Great Leaders Prioritize Listening In a Crisis
Understanding the basic approach to crisis management
How leaders navigate a crisis — big or small — has an enormous influence over the impact that crisis will have on their organization, not to mention the personal impact it will have on the people and leadership of that organization, in its aftermath. The pandemic — a crisis on a global scale — created a series of smaller crises for organizations worldwide. Some floundered at this immediate disruption. Others emerged more resilient than before.
The airline industry was hit hard in the early days of the pandemic and most companies continue to grapple with the fallout — some more successfully than others. Delta Airlines, for instance, earned kudos for its handling of the COVID-19 crisis. Under the stewardship of CEO Ed Bastian, Delta took proactive measures to prioritize customer safety. In 2020, the airline hired U.S. healthcare and research giant, the Mayo Clinic, to advise on virus-related cleaning, ventilation protocols and in-flight social distancing. Bastian went on to hire Mayo’s Henry Ting, a celebrated cardiologist, as Delta’s Chief Health Officer in 2021. Ting in turn has continued to lead Delta’s efforts to safeguard the wellbeing of passengers and staff. Among the initiatives he oversees are ending the mandate on mask-wearing as the pandemic recedes, and the provision of 24-hour mental health and counseling services to employees facing exhaustion and burnout in its wake. Delta has been commended by academics and the media as a company that navigated the storm of COVID-19 with acuity; its CEO cited as an example of strong leadership in a crisis.
Delta isn’t the only one that picked up praise for its pandemic-era efforts. Adam Silver of the National Basketball Association made headlines when he stopped play in 2020 — a bold decision that cost the NBA $190 million in lost revenue — and created an exclusion zone or “bubble,” arresting the spread of the virus among players and fans. Silver has been lauded as an example of what good leadership looks like in a crisis.
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