Leadership Lessons Learned During a Crisis

International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC)


By Chief Patrick J. Kenny

April 2021

Leaders are accustomed to being in control. If you want to see leaders feel defeated, place them in a situation in which they feel powerless. Usually, you don’t see a crisis coming, so you cannot forecast its devastating impact. You may not see it as it begins, and worse yet, you often can’t predict when it will end.

What is a crisis? According to the Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, a crisis is:

  • The turning point for better or worse in an acute disease or fever.
  • The decisive moment (as in a literary plot).
  • An unstable or crucial time or state of affairs in which a decisive change is impending, especially, one with the distinct possibility of a highly undesirable outcome.

The COVID-19 crisis has heightened the awareness of mental illness as a real physical illness, not a character weakness or a choice. People are quarantined in their homes, schools and churches are closed, creating limited human contact. In my career of 38 years, leadership challenges related to mental health during a crisis were not on any political radar. Currently, the mental health of all involved worldwide must be considered, and not just those on the frontlines.

The pandemic has put most leaders in a difficult position. They not only didn’t see it coming,….

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