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Jeff Janssen's Books

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9/11 Leadership Lessons

Jeff Janssen, Janssen Sports Leadership Center
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On September 11, 2001 we witnessed both the destructive power of evil leadership and the resilient power of heroic leadership by FDNY, NYPD, and countless others.

One figure who stands tall as an example of effective leadership during the crisis is former New York mayor, Rudy Giuliani.

Regardless of your current political leanings, Guiliani's leadership during the 9/11 tragedy is something leaders from all walks of life can learn from.

In his book titled Leadership, Giuliani writes, "It is in times of crisis that good leaders emerge."

Giuliani demonstrated that during times of crisis, leaders must do four critical things: be highly visible, composed, vocal, and resilient.


Giuliani writes, "While mayor, I made it my policy to see with my own eyes the scene of every crisis so I could evaluate it firsthand."

During a crisis, leaders must be out front rather than running or hiding from the ordeal. They must go to the scene of disaster and stand front and center - to accurately assess the situation as well as show their concern, while also demonstrating confidence that the group will persevere.

Business author Tom Peters writes of Guiliani's courage to be visible: Rudy "showed up" - when it really mattered, on 9/11. As one wag put it, he went from being a lameduck, philandering husband to being Time magazine's "Man of the Year" in 111 days. How? Not through any "strategy," well-thought-out or otherwise. But by showing his face. By standing as the embodiment of Manhattan's Indomitable Spirit.

As a leader, be sure you don't retreat when faced with a crisis. Rather than hide from the chaos and confusion, be sure to step in to sort things out and find a solution.

Again, political preferences aside, the importance of being visible during a crisis can also be learned from George W. Bush's presidency. Like Giuliani, Americans rallied around President Bush when he went to Ground Zero and grabbed a bullhorn amid the rubble to reassure the nation.

Contrast that with President Bush's lack of a timely response to Hurricane Katrina. Bush was noticeably absent during the first few days of the crisis and his poll numbers took a big hit.

Bottom Line: Step up during a crisis to survey the scene and be there for your people.


Guiliani writes: "Leaders have to control their emotions under pressure. Much of your ability to get people to do what they have to do is going to depend on what they perceive when they look at you and listen to you. They need to see someone who is stronger than they are, but human, too."

No matter how difficult things may seem, you must maintain your poise under pressure. People will be looking to your face as well as tuning into the tone of your voice to determine whether they should panic or remain calm; to give in or maintain hope.

As Duke men's basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski reminds us in his book Leading with the Heart, "A leader must show the face his team needs to see."

Bottom Line: Be sure to show your team that you are calm and in control, even though you may not exactly feel that way at the time. Your calm demeanor will go a long way toward helping your team think clearly and react appropriately during the crisis.


Giuliani writes, "I had to communicate with the public, to do whatever I could to calm people down and contribute to a orderly and safe evacuation [of lower Manhattan.]"

In addition to being visible and composed, leaders must step up in an effort to calm people down and communicate with them.

Bottom Line: You must speak up and take charge of what people are thinking and feeling at the time. You must reassure them and give them a simple yet specific plan that will get people through the crisis. Outline important action steps that they can take immediately to help themselves and the team.


As difficult as the crisis can seem, remind people that there is hope.

Giuliani writes: "I am an optimist by nature. I think things will get better, that the good people of America and New York City will overcome any challenge thrown our way. So in the face of this overwhelming disaster, standing amid sixteen acres of smoldering ruins, I felt a mixture of disbelief and confidence... that Americans would rise to this challenge."

While your athletic challenges pale in comparison to 9/11, they can still discourage, distract, and debilitate those on your team.

Bottom Line: Give your team a sense of hope. Let them know that they have the ability to make it through the crisis.

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