Different Leadership Styles and How They Relate to First Responder Incident Command

Nov 26, 2021

Is there one best leadership style for managing crises?  The management literature offers an abundance of opinions on this subject.  For example, in the policing literature, the traditional common styles of leadership identified by a number of police training facilities as effective in crisis have included the following:

  • Authoritarian style, meaning leaders who communicate less with subordinates but approach tasks in a direct manner.
  • Participatory style, perhaps best characterized as a leader selling their ideas to subordinates to gain acceptance and consensus.
  • Laissez-Faire style, best known for promoting innovation and motivating people by providing autonomy to work and grow, independent of the leader’s influence.
  • Transformational style, which is characterized as charismatic and visionary leadership, valuable in leading and promoting change in their organizations.

Other ideas on leadership have been shared by notable figures like U.S. Chairman and Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who describes ideal leadership as the art of accomplishing more than management science says is possible.

Essentially, good leaders learn from others, continually develop and refine their skills, are skillful in getting along with others, accept responsibility for their actions, and are able to remain calm and clear in crisis situations (Trovato 2013).

During a crisis, good leaders must quickly assess all potential risks and rapidly direct and leverage resources to respond to what is likely a developing situation.

The ability of leaders to communicate effectively is considered one of the most important skills in influencing others. Consider the challenges a leader can face during a crisis (i.e. large-scale nature of crisis, lack of information, unclear processes and conflicting procedures) and the need to communicate frequently and effectively as the situation progresses (Trovato, F. 2013).

Leaders must decide on a course of action after weighing all the risk factors involved in any given situation, and then be very clear on actions needing to be taken as they work to establish concise operating standards/procedures and measure progress in relation to goals along the way.

Truly effective leaders will consult with team members along the way who will have a keen sense of situational changes to conditions, to ensure leadership decisions are as sound as possible. Another important consideration is that in a crisis, feedback or communication normally flows bottom-up. Meaning, once a course of action is set in motion by the leader it is the front-line team members who play a critical role in keeping leaders informed on what is unfolding on the ground.  This is of critical importance, as this intel from the front-lines is what a leader relies on as the situation evolves and further decisions about operations must be made (Trovato, F. 2013).

In conclusion, during a crisis, leaders must be positioned to make sound decisions, despite the evolving nature of the crisis. Further, there needs to be a leadership focus on communicating clearly, trusting team members and being able to leverage human and technical resources in the most effective way possible.

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