The test of a great leader is how effective they are managing through a crisis. We have witnessed both good and bad examples. Japan's prime minister Naoto Kan is experiencing this now and the world is watching.
Why are some leaders more effective than others? I believe it is because they:
1. Want to lead regardless of the circumstances. All leaders have ego's but this is not that. Leaders don't get to choose their circumstances but they do get to choose how they respond to them.
2. Meet the needs of the victims and survivors. It is about the basics food, clothing, and shelter. However, when everything around you is destroyed achieving the basics takes creativity and persistence.
3. Communicate with credibility and empathy. You can't fake empathy but if you think you can a crisis will quickly expose an uncaring leader. You also don't have to be a great speech giver. President George W. Bush is not noted as a gifted communicator. However, he is remembered for his 9/11 Bullhorn speech in New York when he said, "I can hear you and the rest of the world hears you and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon."
4. Are comfortable in unprecedented circumstances. While emergency management procedures and policies may exist, no two crises are exactly alike. In fact, the majority of crises today are of such a magnitude that a leader must be able to divert from standard practice.
5. Display a sense of urgency and composure in the face of chaos. No one wants to see a leader panicking. However, when the sky is falling people expect their leader to act with intensity and confidence.
A critical factor a leader must understand is that when a catastrophe hits, whether a natural disaster or an economic meltdown their job description changes and it is no longer business as usual.