Boston’s Terror Attack: Three Musts for Leading in a Crisis


American’s are on the alert again, much like we were after September 11, 2001. Two blasts went off during the Boston Marathon, killing at least three people and injuring over a hundred others. While experts say it was unlike the magnitude of 9-11, and more like the horror of a bad bus crash—those who were there might beg to differ. Explosions hurled shrapnel into onlookers, some losing arms or legs, making Boylston Street look like a war zone. Our hearts and our prayers go out to them.

After reading about the attack, my first thought was: how do leaders respond in moments like these?  Emergency workers and police officers were already present and people were cared for medically with incredible speed and professionalism. But most who were uninjured just looked around in a daze. They didn’t know what to do. In moments like these—leaders must know what is needed most.

Three Actions Leaders Must in Crises

1. Be clear.

Crises spawn chaos and confusion. People are creatures of habit, and most of us love the comfortable and the familiar. In moments of uncertainty, people need clarity from their leaders. Even if you cannot offer much counsel or direction, be clear with what you can offer. In panic, people need purpose. Clarity provides focus and positive, directed energy to people, like a river instead of a flood. Emergency workers also felt the daze of the attacks for a split second, then their training kicked in immediately. They offered clear steps for people to take.

2. Be resourceful.

Once again, few expect a terrorist attack to interrupt their day. In times of crisis, effective leaders become very resourceful using whatever tools, aids and advantages they can to solve problems. After the attack, lanyards were being used as tourniquets. People with any level of medical background were put to work. In times like this, leaders don’t expect to have perfect conditions to respond to; instead they make the most of what they have at their disposal. This is what military officers and emergency workers are trained to do. It’s also what good leaders do.

3. Provide hope.

Tragedy and crisis are emotionally expensive. They drain our emotional tanks. Leaders know that what people need when they panic is hope. Hope replenishes our emotional tank and enables us to go on. Obviously, I am not speaking of empty hope or cheesy platitudes right after someone is injured, but rather well-timed, authentic words of hope and encouragement. It must be perceived as reasonable or the listener won’t buy it, so leaders understand the words of hope must be thoughtful and rational. John Maxwell has said, “Where there’s not hope in the future, there’s no power in the present.”

May we learn from this tragedy how to better care for people and respond to crisis. Can I hear from you? Would you add anything to this list?

Boston’s Terror Attack: Three Musts for Leading in a Crisis