How Do Leaders Handle Crisis?

It was around 9.03 AM, a big thunder was heard by thousands, before anyone can get any idea on what is happening, a building with multi-multi stories, known as ‘South Tower’ was engulfed in fire. That giant building, the south tower toppled in the next 56 minutes, bringing a billion pounds of steel and concrete and bodies raining down. Smoke billowed like thunderheads.

By now, I am sure you know that I am talking about the collapse of twin towers.

What would you do if you were a mayor of the city of these buildings?

The then mayor Mr. Rudy Giuliani told the press this immediately after the attacks:

“Today is obviously one of the most difficult days in the history of the city,” he said softly. “The tragedy that we are undergoing right now is something that we’ve had nightmares about. My heart goes out to all the innocent victims of this horrible and vicious act of terrorism. And our focus now has to be to save as many lives as possible.”

The world was watching. In 4 sentences, in 64 words, Mr. Giuliani captured what a leader would. He provided the status, showed empathy, condemned the act, and assured the focus on rescue operation.

Later on he said, “Tomorrow New York is going to be here. And we’re going to rebuild, and we’re going to be stronger than we were before…I want the people of New York to be an example to the rest of the country, and the rest of the world, that terrorism can’t stop us.”

He came out as brave, and reassuring, just as a leader should. And it is not easy, especially, when a tragedy of this nature, unprecedented, never seen, never heard before strikes, most people panic, some get even paralyzed. It needs courage of a lion, and calmness of a yogi to handle the situation. That is what makes a leader.

Speaking of a lion, imagine world war is going on. There are casualties. There is chaos. People cannot distinguish between information and misinformation. The only way to communicate to the public is radio. The country is going through turmoil. Amongst all these you are given charge of one of the key countries involved in the war. You are taking charge as a prime minster.

Would you be ready to say the following to the government body, the parliament, and the people of your country?

“I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this Government, I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many long months of toil and struggle.

“You ask what is our policy. I will say, it is to wage war with all our might, with all the strength that God can give us, to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime.

“You ask what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory. Victory at all costs. Victory in spite of all terror. Victory however long and hard the road may be. For without victory there is no survival.”

 —First speech as Prime Minister, House of Commons, 13 May 1940.

The lion we are talking about is Winston Churchill. We can see why he would be called lion. The clear, concise, and inspiring message made him a leader we still talk about. He laid out the ultimate goal of victory, and set the expectation the price to be paid to win the war.

“We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air. We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing-grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender!”

—House of Commons, 4 June 1940, following the evacuation of British and French armies from Dunkirk as the German tide swept through France.

This is not about meeting some goal of making millions or billions in revenue. This is about sacrificing lives, thousands of lives in order to achieve the victory. Churchill as a leader conveyed the message, and thousands were ready to fight to the end.

These examples teach us that when a crisis hits, or chaos in place, a leader shows determination, courage, inspiration, and commitment. That’s what keeps the city together, the country together.



R.D. Jani
R.D. Jani
R. D. Jani, MS, MBA, is an avid student and practitioner of leadership and management. RJ gained his over 20 years of experience by working and consulting at various Fortune 500 companies, including General Electric (GE), McGraw-Hill, Godiva, NBC, Citibank, Bank of America, TIME, and many others. He also runs his blog at and has authored a book - "Leadership Lessons from Business Legends." He can be reached at: [email protected]

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