Crisis Management For Dummies

During my life, I have held various positions of responsibility. I have been in charge of as many as a dozen people at a time — and I did fairly well at it. And while that isn’t a great reservoir of experience, it has taught me a few things about what to do when things go to hell in a handbasket.

When things do go all pear-shaped, there are some fairly simple principles that help tremendously in getting things back on track.

The first thing that has to be done is to figure out if the problem is ongoing, or if the crap has already run its course. If it’s still happening, the priority is to stop it. Stabilizing the situation takes precedence over everything.

Then, and only then, you need to assess what harm has been done and how best to fix it. Especially if the harm has been done to someone else.

Finally, once the harm has been fixed as best as possible (or well on its way), then — and only then — do you look into the root causes and assess blame and responsibility. (The two are NOT the same — more on that later.)

In the process of stabilizing and fixing, though, you do NOT worry about blame. That simply isn’t a concern at that stage. And the person or people who caused the problem are, paradoxically, quite often the best to help at that stage. They are the ones who are probably the best acquainted with just went wrong, and they can help figure out how to fix things.

Unless, of course, they caused the problem deliberately. If there was malice involved, then you keep them the hell away from the actual problem — but get their input anyway. Pretty much anything they say might be useful. But sabotage is actually pretty rare.

When the situation is stabilized, that’s when you do the blame and responsibility thing. It might turn out that some new guy did something wrong, and sent it all careening down the toilet. He’s to blame. But he should have been properly supervised and trained to not do that — the folks who were in charge of that are responsible.

That, in a nutshell, is what anyone who ever held a position of leadership or responsibility learns fairly quickly — or they don’t get those positions again. And those are lessons that President Obama has apparently never learned.

With the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Obama focused immediately on the “blame/responsibility” angle, even while the situation continued to worsen. This is, to put it mildly, exceptionally counterproductive.

Yes, the problem was BP’s responsibility. And they never denied it. But instead of throwing all possible resources at the problem, getting everyone to work together to first stop the leak, then contain the oil and mitigate the damage, Obama broke out the old “blame-thrower” and started firing at the folks trying like hell to stop the leaking.

So here’s BP. Nobody thinks they deliberately caused the leak. Nobody wants to stop the damned thing than they do — it’s an ongoing PR nightmare and incredibly escalating fiscal liability. But they can’t focus all their resources on the leak, because they have the President of the United States leading the charge at demonizing them and “keeping his boot on their throat.”

Obama’s other responses to the spill are equally counterproductive (to put it mildly). His plan to suspend all offshore drilling for six months? “Hey, here’s a disaster that’s going to gut the economy of the Gulf region. Let’s punish a bunch of other people who haven’t done anything wrong yet, and throw a whole bunch more people out of work, and cut down even more on our domestic oil supply!”

Anyone with a lick of common sense and managerial experience would have, from the outset, said to BP “we’re not going to worry about blame right now. Let’s stop that leak. What do you need? How can we help? You need the Jones Act suspended so we can bring in foreign-flagged ships to help? You need the Air Force to fly in oil booms from Maine? You need the Coast Guard to help track the plumes? Whatever you need, we’ll get you. Let’s get this plugged, the shores secured, and then we’ll worry about assigning blame.”

Or, to steal a line from a truly legendary government problem-solver, “let’s work the problem, people!”

But while this failure is clearly President Obama’s fault, it’s not his responsibility. As I said above, it’s the responsibility of the people who put him in that position without adequate training and supervision, who didn’t recognize his utter lack of qualifications for his job. The guy had never run anything bigger than a Congressional office, and had nothing on his record to show that he had any kind of managerial or executive or supervisory or leadership skills or abilities.

No, the responsibility lies squarely on the shoulders of those who elected him.

Thank you so much, you 52.9% of voters who put this idiot in office based essentially on “he reads his speeches so prettily.”

Or, as the one person on the 2008 election ticket with actual executive experience put it, “how’s that hopey-changey thing working out for ya?”

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