Why a leader needs two speeds to communicate in a crisis

Delivering the ‘What happened?’ must be done quickly. Slowing down to explain ‘What now?’ makes for a balanced approach that provides context and elicits trust.

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When Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans, Rod West had to tell the truth and tell it fast. As Entergy’s operational executive he was on point to restore power.

When West faced his team after surveying the destruction from a helicopter, everyone had questions. What did you see? How bad is it? What about my neighborhood?

My response was: “Six feet of water; eight feet of water….”

“What about St. Bernard’s—you know right where I live?”

“Nine. Feet. Of water.”

As tension grew …finally I said (slowly), “The city is under water. So for most of you, everything you left at home is destroyed.”

New Orleans would be lost without them—they knew that. Hard as it was for everyone, West’s honesty marshaled action. The raw truth called everyone to higher purpose.

Big lesson: Tell the truth, and tell it fast.

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