The way you deal with disaster can underscore your abilities as a leader. Acting with clarity and discernment in times of chaos will set you apart.
Sir Richard Branson is a social media icon. He is very public. He blogs. He tweets. He’s followed. He’s watched. He is consistently visionary.
When Virgin Galactic’s “Spaceship Two” crashed on Halloween, Branson responded. I’m a follower of his, and when I looked at the four consecutive tweets he made just after the spacecraft crashed, I saw why he is such a great leader.
As soon as the crash was reported, Branson tweeted:
Thoughts with all @virgingalactic & Scaled, thanks for all your messages of support. I’m flying to Mojave immediately to be with the team.
This first tweet acknowledged the situation, expressed sympathy and confirmed that Branson was going to do something about it—to take action, be on the ground and get involved. It was timely, tactful and direct without disclosing any specific details. A completely appropriate immediate response. The team was top of mind.
His second tweet, six hours later, reiterated that he was taking action, that he was, in fact, en route and would be meeting with the teams and the investigators, and acknowledged the “tragic loss,” again demonstrating business focus and respect simultaneously:
Fifteen minutes later, Branson tweeted again, this time acknowledging the pilots and their families. This personal touch is consistent with his public image—that of a man who cares about people and the human spirit, and is considerate of the importance of the people at the core of everything his organization does:
Branson’s fourth and final tweet in this series reconfirmed Virgin Galactic’s commitment, offering hope in the midst of chaos:
Space is hard – but worth it. We will persevere and move forward together http://virg.in/svg
When an organization is faced with tragic or controversial events, its leaders need to face the situation head on. When there are injuries and/or loss of life, care, respect and compassion are imperative. You have no choice but to do the right thing.
For our weekly practice, it’s time to review crisis communications policies.
Even if you haven’t been confronted with a public tragedy within your organization, do you have a policy in place for addressing crises internally and externally? Who will take the lead in communicating with your stakeholders and the public? Will the top-tier executives take this role, or will it be delegated? Will it be delegated in full or in part?
If you are the one tasked with taking the lead, how will you go about it? Have you thought about the different motivating factors in managing crisis communications well? What will motivate your choices?
Do you imagine trying to maintain “business as usual”? What will you do if it is impossible to sustain the norm?
What would your stakeholders expect of you as a leader—and as a human—in a crisis?
If there’s a silver lining in a situation like the one Sir Richard Branson is navigating right now, perhaps it will be inspiring other leaders to learn from his example. Perhaps others will walk away from this with a sense of how to publicly acknowledge that something has gone wrong, balancing the practical and human elements of a crisis while reassuring onlookers and stakeholders that recovery and progress are imminent.
In closing, thank you, Sir Richard Branson, for showing up as who you are. While an extraordinary visionary, you have an exemplary ability to be grounded without being afraid to be all heart.