In February of 1968, just two months before his life was tragically cut short, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave a sermon in Atlanta, GA that he titled “The Drum Major Instinct”.  In Dr. King’s words, the instinct is “a desire to be out front, a desire to lead the parade, a desire to be first.”  He adds that if we look at ourselves honestly, “we will discover that we too have those same basic desires for recognition, for See the source imageimportance.”

Leadership is important.  It’s desperately needed.  But leading the parade through thoughtful leadership and walking in front of everyone seeking attention are two different things.

Dr. King’s sermon didn’t condemn the instinct to lead. In fact, a key point of his message is not to give up on the instinct because it’s a good, it’s admirable to want to lead. He just challenged us to measure it differently.   He warns us not to distort it and not to pervert it and he encourages us to focus on moral excellence and generosity.  Wow – what a model for business!

Three paragraphs into this article, you may be wondering what this has to do with crisis management. (Thanks for asking).

There are two things.

First, as a consultant, I believe that I bring the most value to the table when I demonstrate leadership.  I’ve worked for a “leading” service provider around business continuity and resiliency services and I can tell you that (the vast majority of the time) the consultants were following a script and checking off tasks from a pre-defined spreadsheet, rather than providing thoughtful leadership based on the unique needs of the client.  Leadership, much like common sense, is all too uncommon in this day and age.  My clients expect me to offer leadership.  It comes with the territory.  I have been asked more times that I can count “Mark, what do you think we should do”? or “Have you seen this situation before, and how is the best way to handle it”?  They want someone who can demonstrate that the years of experience detailed on your resume’ have some value.  Be a leader!

The second is a bit more profound, but it has to do with the industry that we are in.  In the crisis management world, whether you are providing services that focus more on business continuity, disaster recovery, exercises, crisis management or all of the above – we provide a service.  We do our best to help prepare and protect our clients or employers from something that we hope never happens.  We identify key threats and help them develop strategies and plans to respond appropriately.  Our industry is a service industry – and it’s an honorable industry and I’m proud of it.

Now – to Dr. King’s point, let’s tie these two things (leadership and service) together.  That’s where we find the real value!

Throughout my career I have received a massive amount of satisfaction by leading through service.  I’m a career consultant and I meet a lot of different people, work with a lot of different organizations who are at varying phases of crisis management program development.  Everyone has different requirements and different working styles, but my style is to lead collaboratively, by serving, giving and helping.

Let me give you a few examples.

I have a client who has a VERY engaged Board of Directors (good!).  Presentations are stressful and detailed.  I don’t present to this particular Board, my client does.  And we work together to make sure that she is fully versed on the material.  We make sure we’ve considered any possible question the Board might ask, and I personally make sure that she is prepared for possible discussions that may arise. I give her talking points and we go over the background material to make sure she is fully prepared.  I add value through leadership, but it’s thoughtful leadership through service.

I will do similar things as we’re walking to a meeting with senior business leaders.  I’ll provide background about the latest challenges facing the business unit we are meeting with.  I may say something like, “This department is going through a bit of change right now because they’ve added another area of responsibility.  The VP is concerned about how she’s going to handle the additional responsibility without adding staff and how this will affect their business continuity strategy.”  That way, my client is fully versed on what is happening and why tensions are high.  As a result, she can help shape what direction we take.  She is prepared.  I have served.

I have another client who recently had an issue that required him to convene the crisis management team for an unusual circumstance. He had recently taken on this new role and hadn’t yet been trained on running crisis management meetings.  The situation was something that frankly, this client hadn’t experienced before – and they were not prepared for.  The team convened quickly, and we didn’t have time to prepare.   I discreetly provided him with an agenda for the meeting.  As the senior leaders were gathering in the room, I said to my new client “I know that you’re aware of the agenda, but for the benefit of everyone else in the room, I’ve written it on the white board, so they can follow along.”  My client did a fantastic job as we identified the situation, gathered additional information and made key decisions about how it should be handled. The team reconvened a couple of hours later and in between the meetings we discussed the agenda for the next meeting and I got him prepared.  In our lessons learned sessions after the issue was resolved, the overwhelming feedback in the ‘what went well’ category was the leadership of the meetings and how smooth (and believe it or not – how well defined) the process was.

In each of these cases, even though I wasn’t leading the parade, I was providing leadership.  Some may call it coaching or mentoring – I’ll accept that.

A few months ago, I was speaking to a colleague and we were discussing working at this stage of our career (we both have well over 20 years in the industry).  And she talked about how must joy she gets from mentoring younger people and sharing – not only her knowledge, but also her wisdom.  We’ve gotten to this point in our careers and we feel an obligation to give back – to generously work with others.  To lead through service.   I encourage you to do the same.  If you’re in this stage of your career, consider speaking at an ICMC event or writing an article.  Share what you know!

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the most eloquent speakers of my life time. So, if you’ll indulge me, I will allow his words to wrap up this article.  “If you want to be important – wonderful.  If you want to be recognized – wonderful.  If you want to be great – wonderful.  But recognize that he who is greatest among you, shall be your servant.  That’s a new definition of greatness.  Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve.”

Mark Hoffman is a senior crisis management consultant based in the Greater Toronto Area.  He has a passion for the industry and has a reputation for excellent delivery and execution. Mark is known for his collaborative leadership style, program development, crisis management, business continuity, training and exercises.  If you’d like to contact Mark you can follow him on Twitter (@mhoffman_cbcp), on LinkedIn (Mark Hoffman, CBCP) or at [email protected].  If you have an idea for a future article or would like to explore ways that Mark could help your organization succeed, please reach out!