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What Really Matters in Times of Crisis?

Leading under ordinary circumstances comes with its fair share of challenges. However, leading during crisis can bring these challenges to another level. For leaders in public safety, it’s paramount to understand what really matters to succeed during critical situations.

Brian Marcos, an accomplished emergency services professional and deputy fire chief at the Smyrna Fire Department in Georgia, has earned respect for his knowledge on leadership best practices within public safety. In a recent presentation Marcos laid out seven strategies to effectively lead in critical situations. He started the presentation by borrowing the quote “never let a crisis go to waste” from Carol B. Tome, CEO of UPS.

For leaders in public safety, it’s paramount to understand what really matters to succeed during critical situations, says Chief Brian Marcos. (Photo: ImageTrend) 

Reflecting on the impact of past crises—pandemic and otherwise—Marcos added, “In times of crisis we have the opportunity to innovate and pursue creative solutions, while ensuring we’re not making old mistakes twice.”

As crises push the envelope on the way leaders arrive at solutions, Marcos reminds us that someone’s experience isn’t the most valuable quality in critical situations—rather, it’s their character.

“When there is uncertainty, the character of an individual is of the utmost importance in terms of leading through a large-scale crisis and delivering results that satisfy their team, stakeholders, and the communities they live and serve in,” Marcos said.

Seven Strategies

With that idea in mind, what are Marcos’ seven strategies for leading in critical situations, and how do they tie into an individual’s character?

Shared consciousness—Pursuing a shared consciousness flattens an organization and breaks down silos of information to ensure an entire team is working toward the same goal and eliminates single points of failure. Marcos urges organizations to work together like a basketball team, rather than a lone golfer—be able to anticipate what the rest of your team is thinking or going to do.

Command and support—You may be familiar with the term command and control, but what is really needed in a time of crisis is command and support. Command is certainly important to understand who is in charge, but to be agile and responsive to evolving situations, it is critical to support and delegate with a purpose to empower execution rather than control.

Optimism and deliberate calm—You cannot fight fire with fire. Communities look up to public safety; it’s important to carry yourself with humility and remain steadfast in the service to which you’re committed. Remaining calm and promoting optimism is key to combating the unknown.

Information control—A lack of information can result in MSUmaking stuff up, as Marcos put it. When there is uncertainty, people may resort to filling in the blanks themselves. When leading in critical situations, it’s essential to create a process for capturing information early and sharing it often to create solid expectations and goals.

Effective communication—People want to be informed, whether it’s good news or bad. The way individuals process and respond to information varies, so when information is shared, it is critical to communicate it multiple ways with frequent updates. When leading in critical situations, it is a leader’s responsibility to be thorough in their communication techniques.

Be present, visible, and available—​Sharing risk and responsibility is leadership in action. As leaders, it’s important to remember that nobody is above the situation, and your team is in it together. Being present, visible, and available to your team builds an environment of trust and ensures everyone is working toward the same goals.

The qualities of an empathetic leader

The qualities of an empathetic leader

Demonstrate empathy—Effective leaders lead from a place of empathy. They understand the situation and know what topics, discussions, or tasks their team can handle and how they’re feeling on a professional level as well as personal. The word itself can serve as an acronym for the qualities important to an empathetic leader:

  • E—Eye contact​
  • M—Muscles in your face​
  • P—Posture ​
  • A—Affect​
  • T—Tone of voice​
  • H—Hearing the other person​
  • Y—Your questions​

Whether leading during a crisis, a routine emergency, or just going through the day-to-day, these seven strategies can positively impact organizational execution, team morale, and the overall outcomes in critical situations.

“When leading through a crisis or in any environment, it’s important to remember an organization is a team of teams,” Marcos said. “The character of our leaders and their chemistry with their teams is what will ultimately lead to positive outcomes.”

To learn more about Marcos’ seven strategies for effective leadership and to listen to his full presentation on the topic, visit

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