March 26, 2020

Maintaining morale during a crisis

Former U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen led the U.S. response to some of the most challenging modern crises including Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Allen discusses how he kept morale high when communicating with the disaster response teams, media and the country during times of panic.

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In reflecting on our current situation, historical precedent and what we as individuals can do, Allen said, “These are very difficult times…when you’re in situations like this, you need to have as good an understanding as you can create for yourself of what you can control and what you can’t…and take advantage of the things that you do to control and optimize those.”   

Dave asked Allen how he improved people’s morale after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when people lost homes, jobs and more. He reflected on the dark days when he told the Federal Emergency Management workforce that he was “giving them an order they were to treat everybody they came in contact with as if they were a member of their own family: a mother, father, brother, sister and so forth. I said, ‘If you do that, two things are going to happen. One, you’re going to err on the side of doing too much, and at this point in the storm, I’m okay with that. Two, if somebody has got a problem with what you’re doing, their problem is with me.’ ” 

Marchick asked how Allen keeps up his own morale as a leader in tough times.   

“I’ve always felt that when you’re under the most stress, either professionally, personally or even physically, that’s the time when your behavior and your actions are most visible and consequential,” Allen said.