Donald Rumsfeld has seen much in his career as US Secretary of Defense, US Congressman, White House Chief of Staff, and CEO of two Fortune 500 companies. He certainly knows his way around a crisis situation. And that is what we are going to learn today—Rumsfeld’s Rules for leading in a crisis.
Where The Rules Come From
The first rule comes from Rumsfeld’s father who told him this when he wanted to quit the boy scouts: “Once you quit one thing, then you can quit something else, and pretty soon you’ll get good at being a quitter.”
He made it clear that the decision was Donald’s to make, but that he should seriously think about the consequences of his actions. This piece of advice became the first of Rumsfeld’s Rules, an ever-evolving collection of wisdom he has gained over the years.
As we work through Rumsfeld’s rules for leading in a crisis, it will help to keep in mind one of his favourite rules—“All generalizations are false—including this one.” Rules are meant to be used as guides, and not as a substitute for judgment.
Rule # 1: Trust your instincts
Rumsfeld tells us, “Success depends, at least in part, on the ability to “carry it off.” Whatever crisis you find yourself in, the biggest mistake you can make is to fall into the trap of thinking that there’s a perfect response plan for you to follow. There isn’t.
Rule #2: Don’t “over control” like a novice pilot
When something unexpected happens, the last thing you should do as a leader is panic, or even more importantly, give the appearance of panic. It reduces the confidence of your team, who will be looking to you for reassurance and a sense that there is a way forward.
Rule #3: First reports are often wrong
One of the reasons it’s important to keep a calm head in a crisis is that the first reports are often wrong. So while it is tempting to start creating plans immediately, make sure that you have the correct information in your hands before you start mobilizing any actions that will have long-term consequences.
On the flip side, Rumsfeld also points out: “with most problems, 80 percent of what can be known relatively rapidly, but the remaining 20 percent can take forever.” So once you are clear that you have the first 80 percent of the information correct, don’t waste precious time and energy looking for the other 20 percent.
Rule #4: Speed kills
In the military world, speed creates opportunities, denies the enemy options, and can often be the difference between victory and defeat. Therefore, once you are sure that you have enough information to act, you should make a decision and get in motion.
Rule # 5: Never Waste a Good Crisis
Rumsfeld points out, as a leader, a crisis gives you the opportunity to act boldly to improve things in ways you might not otherwise be able to do. What most people remember about a crisis is how the leaders responded, and whether or not they took whatever measures were required in order to fix the problem.
Whatever crisis faces you right now, use it as an opportunity to create the change you’ve always wanted to make.