SPA 362 – Spring 2019
Leadership Development  Lab II

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Week 11 – Leadership in Crisis

In recent weeks we’ve looked at leaders in various fields – diplomacy, peace-making, business and media, the arts, education, etc.  This week we change our approach a little to examine leaders from a wide range of endeavors but in a common circumstance – crisis.

You classmates have compiled a long list of interesting case studies of leadership during crisis situations, from today’s headlines to giants in history.  You might not spend hours with each one, but please choose a couple that you are especially interested in, and at least skim the others.

You can use the prompts offered here, or you can propose your own.

Financial Crises

Your classmates offered so many options that I am leaving most of mine off.  But there are a couple of short clips worth watching, in the area of Can we watch crisis leadership in action?

We get some insight into two version of financial crises in these short clips.  On President Clinton and Speaker Gingrich, and some very good staff work, we see the discussions of how to consider the financial crisis in Mexico in late 1994.  With a little background you can see this 22:51 – 32:50 (10 minutes, below) or at an absolute minimum the second half 28:33-32:50 (4 minutes).  The quote by Laura Tyson is one of my favorite of all my time in Washington.

Start at 22:51 and watch  through 32:50

A few years later, it was the U.S. market in crisis.  A good start to understanding the 2008 crisis is Aaron Ross Sorkin’s 800-page book, Too Big to Fail.  For now, we’ll look at a trailer (below) of the HBO film version, and a three-minute summary of the problem.

You have to read the book (or at least see the film) to get a sense of the leadership exhibited (and not) by Wall Street, Bush, Obama, and Congress.  But you should watch this summary anyway (below) Yes, that’s not-governor Cynthia Nixon. And the guy with his sleeves rolled up? I knew him during his first Hill internship, and within a few years he was Treasury chief of staff.  Nice.

Your classmates offer these:


4 things to know about Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s prime minister

As she leads a nation still grieving over 50 killings at two mosques, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Thursday declared a ban on military-style rifles, which includes assault rifles, high-capacity magazines and military-like semi-automatic rifles. Since the attacks in Christchurch, Ardern has become the face and voice of New Zealand to the world and she’s used her platform to denounce the hateful attacks.

Q: How does Arden’s leadership compare to other leaders we’ve studied? How does her leadership differ from American leaders?

Brexit delay, crisis or not?

While the United Kingdom did orginally vote for Brexit, there was a lot of tension in this vote. A majority of Scotland voted to stay, as did major cities such a London. But since the vote was to leave the European Union the leaders have to follow through. In this case, Theresa May, has been criticized from many sides with how she is handling this withdraw. Do you think that her leadership style is working for this incident, or is it causing a further crisis for those in the UK that don’t want this change?

Fathers Of Our Country: How U.S. Presidents Exercised Moral Leadership In Crisis

This article outlines the different leadership approaches by presidents during a crisis. Although Barack Obama is the focus of this week’s topic, this article only touches on his accomplishments. However, it outlines the actions of other presidents which can be used to contrast Obama’s actions.
1. This article shows some other leaders acting in a crisis and showing good leadership. Are there any other leaders that showed good leadership during a crisis that stood out to you?
2. As a follower, it is often easy to see what a leader cannot. What would you have changed in the approaches of some of the leaders we learned about? do you think you would have taken the same actions as that leader?

Boeing’s 737 MAX Crisis Is A Leadership Issue

This article does not specifically examine one individual but a company as a whole and how their cohesive unit lacked the necessary leadership skills in the face of a crisis. Good and bad leadership can often be dependent on the whole team, not just one singular person.

There were many parallels between this plane crash and others, those similarities were disregarded and that suggests this could have been avoided, so knowing that it probably did not come as a total shock to Boeing when their planes crashed, are we still surprised by their actions amid the crisis? I would identify them abandoning their core values as the start of the crisis; if we could hypothetically back track and correct their wrongs what would that look like? What styles of leadership should have been utilized?

Winston Churchill

In this recording of Winston Churchill he describes how it is at that time that they need to take charge and fight the evils of the world, which was soon known as Their Finest Hour.  In a world crisis Churchill took action and was able to lead more than just England in fighting the Nazi’s.  Before winning the battles of D-Day, Churchill faced opposition throughout Parliament.  Viewed as a warmonger and an idealist, he was able to lead the world.  With so many options on what to do and people opposing your views, how would you as a leader determine what is best in a crisis that has such a large ripple effect? What characteristics of a leader are important when handling a crisis under extreme pressure?

Mahatma Gandhi

In this reading Mahatma Gandhi is showcased for his efforts in fasting that has brought on a new approach to protesting. Involving crisis there has been many different methods of prevention. Gandhi’s fasting act combating the violent crimes and lead to a revolutionary protesting model. I like this article because is shows how one person can change the actions of many during a time of crisis. Gandhi’s actions has lead to a ripple effect on methods to positively affect critical situations through peaceful acts.

Question: What peaceful actions and protest that you see today have relations to the methods that Gandhi used?

Barack Obama

CNBC, “Obama As Crisis Manager: High Marks, But a Bit of Luck, Too”.  The new president was popular with the public, popular with the press, and had an even demeanor focused on policies more than on his critics.  But despite early indicators that he was on a good path, there were cautionary signs as well.

Question:  How much does personality matter?


In 2018, two black men waiting for a white colleague in a Starbucks in Philadelphia were arrested and forcibly removed under the grounds of loitering. This illustration of how prevalent implicit racial biases are in American culture gained traction on a national stage, calling into question the values of the company as a whole. In this case of leadership in crisis, the CEO of Starbucks, Kevin Johnson, is seen as a positive example, handling the scandal with pragmatism and respect for America’s tendency to propagate systemic racism. Here ( here, and here) are a couple articles that commend his plan of action following the incident.

Some prompts to consider are:

1. In terms of corporate crisis management in the digital age, how much of an influence do you think public opinion has in terms of handling crises in the private sector? Has that pressure, or lack thereof, always existed or do you think social media has reshaped how CEOs, politicians, etc. react to appease the public?

2. The Starbucks crisis was a blatant depiction of racial profiling/ discrimination in our contemporary world and the resulting response from the CEO was praised nationally as a progressive, applaud-worthy way to condemn racism. Do you think the potential of public scrutiny erodes the genuine intent for corporate crisis management? In other words, do you think the Starbucks CEO championed the “racial-biases” workshop training for all Starbucks employees because it looked good in the public eye, and how does that relate to decision-making as a leader in general?