Executive Master of Leadership Blog

Crisis Leadership: 3 Simple Ways to Lead Transformations Across Sectors

[fa icon="calendar'] May 8, 2018 8:52:00 AM / by John Schiavone

Crisis leadership cross-sector cooperation to lead transformations.

Crisis management and leadership are often how the public perceives the efficacy of an organization or institution. Whether it is the private sector or government sector, a constant level of scrutiny exists that must be addressed by sector leaders on a daily basis. 
Common Challenges: Cross-sector Cooperation

Crisis management and leadership are often how the public perceives the efficacy of an organization or institution. Whether it is the private sector or government sector, a constant level of scrutiny exists that must be addressed by sector leaders on a daily basis.

While both sides have developed effective strategies to deal with crises within their sector, challenges continue to exist when cross-sector communication is required. This lack of communication may stem from the private sector’s view of workers in the public sector and vice versa.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg stated that “the private sector does not think highly of public sector management. They think they’re not smart, flexible, or decisive. The public sector thinks the private sector is corrupt. Neither is right”.

Whether or not you agree with Bloomberg, it is clear that each side possesses an inauthentic understanding of the other. To begin leading transformation across sectors it is imperative that each side start to listen and learn from each other. Instead of operating within the constraints of cultural differences, leaders must embrace cooperation and communication. In doing so, it will enable the private and public sector to better handle crises like Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy, or the violence that has taken place in Ferguson, MO.

During the events of Ferguson, roughly 250 protesters were on the scene holding signs saying, “kill the police”. Meanwhile, first responders had to work to save lives right alongside police who attempted to contain the situation. Chris Cebollero, Former Chief of Emergency Medical Services for Christian Hospital during the event, arrived approximately 3 hours after the shooting began and described the problems that arose between emergency responders and local police as “chaotic, fearful, and frustrating”. He added, “even though the challenges, situations, and events in Ferguson were extreme, the lessons learned will aid any organization undergoing a crisis”. Cebollero believes the most important lessons learned were strength in leadership, situational awareness, communication, and using the crisis to teach future leaders.


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Handling Crisis and Working Together

Part of creating positive change across sectors is transforming the dialogue between the public and private sectors. Stubborn leaders will be the last people involved in this transformation. But why is cooperation across sectors so essential? One sector cannot exist without the other; it’s a balanced ecosystem that must continuously evolve.

A June 2015 article by Smart City explains that balancing the need for housing and growing businesses, and the increased societal demand for effective infrastructure, is a complex challenge and the systems related to them are intrinsically linked. Additionally, there seems to be a growing demand for the private sector to make business decisions keeping in mind the greater good.

Real World Transformation

The September 11th attack is a crisis that nearly everyone in the world is familiar with and demonstrates how sector leaders manage crisis. One issue that was raised during the attack was the lack of a communication network between police and fire departments. The radio systems for the fire department, police department, and port authority police were all incompatible with each other. To compound the issue, many of the radios lacked the range to communicate with emergency responders at a distance of 15 floors.

This lack of communication is not an new issue; the outdated system has been problematic since the mid-1960s because of the finite number of radio frequencies that can be operated on. It is estimated that in 2015, approximately 65,000 public safety agencies still relied on patchwork style radio systems.

The question remains: how can effective cross-sector communication be utilized to fix this issue?

Nearly a decade later, the government has called on app makers and cellular providers to develop a single nationwide network for public-safety officials known as FirstNet. It is one of the largest government technology projects ever undertaken. After years of lobbying and communication from police, firefighters, and emergency responders, FirstNet has appointed former Chief Executive of Cellular One and the Chief Operating Officer of Leap Wireless, Sue Swenson, to help build the new network.

Swenson wants to treat FirstNet like a business, utilizing the leadership skills she developed in the private sector to create a solution for public safety. So far, FirstNet has met with over 2,600 officials in 43 states, and they hope to have the network up and running by the end of 2018.

3 Keys to Transformational Change

Crisis leadership requires effective communication and teamwork to bridge public and private sectors.


1. Create a Dialogue Across Sectors

It may take years of cooperation before real transformation can take place, but it is possible. Instead of viewing each sector as separate philosophically, create a symbiosis that is equipped to handle any crisis at any time.

Transformational leaders must be able to maintain strategic communication and examine methods that business, political, governmental, and organizational leaders use to transform their organizations, communities, cities and regions.

2. Learn Valuable Lessons from Past Crises

Public confidence across sectors stems from a government office’s or private business’ ability to grow in the wake of a tragedy or incident. This can be achieved by committing a portion of leadership development to crisis prevention strategy.


3. Develop the Necessary Soft Skills in Leaders

Although the skill set for each sector tends to differ, there is still much the private sector can learn from the public and vice versa. The culture must continue to evolve into one of ethics and character development. Develop your leaders so they may obtain insight and perspective on ethical responsibility and authentic community and stakeholder engagement in leading across all sectors.

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Topics: Leadership Development

John Schiavone

Written by John Schiavone

John C. Schiavone is a writer and technology professional specializing in leadership development.

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