No time to hide in a crisis

The Life: A good leader knows how to respond in a crisis. But should they immediately roll up their sleeves and take action, or do take a wait-and-see approach?

Rupert Murdoch's actions highlight how to respond during a business catastrophe. AP Photo
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When the disgraceful happens a leader needs to know how to respond.

But do you immediately roll up your sleeves and take action, or do you take a wait-and-see approach?

Through the phone hacking activities at the UK's News of the World that ended Rebekah Brooks' 22-year career and slammed News Corp's reputation, the world of leaders received a case study on crisis management.

While this article is not holding Rupert Murdoch blameless of any involvement he may have had in the News Corp embarrassment, his actions highlight how to respond during a business catastrophe.

When the accusations escalated that the News of the World, a Sunday tabloid, was hacking into the voicemails of hundreds of people, from child murder-victims to the families of Britain's war dead and those caught up in the London bombings in 2005, Mr Murdoch interrupted his vacation in Idaho to come to the UK and take charge of the growing crisis.

How should a leader respond when a crisis hits? Facing a crisis in business is never easy, and it is even harder in an honour-and-shame culture.

However, the right move is to roll up the sleeves and take action. This may mean being public when you would normally wait and see. Through the handling of the News of the World crisis, we see the essential actions of crisis response: presence; being decisive; taking action; and demonstrating regret.


In times of crisis it is very important for the leader to be physically present. It is not the time to hide away in a "war room". A leader's presence brings comfort and confidence to all of the concerned stakeholders. Being present allows leaders to receive the intelligence surrounding the crisis without it being filtered through the troops or media.

Being decisive

Autocratic leaders do well in times of crisis, as quick decisions are usually needed. This is not the time for lengthy deliberations. Rather, leaders need to make swift decisions, whether that is closing a paper or going in other strategic directions.

Taking action

Crisis is the time for action. It is not the time to patiently wait to see what will transpire and silently hope the matter at hand will drift away. Action restores confidence, demonstrates to the public there is leadership and gives an insight into how the future will be secure.

Demonstrating regret

Perhaps the most important is the power of the saying "I'm sorry". Leaders need to publicly, humbly and boldly declare regret for the actions of their company.

As a leader, you are not only responsible for how you respond during a crisis, you are responsible for the actions that led to the crisis. The leader is the cultural thermometer of the organisation.

Regardless of the final outcome of the News Corp embarrassment, its chairman stepped forward, took action and led.

Other leaders can learn a valuable lesson from these responsive actions.

Tommy Weir is an authority on fast growth and emerging-market leadership, author of The CEO Shift and the managing director of the Emerging Markets Leadership Centre.