In doing research for the book, Navigating an Organizational Crisis: When Leadership Matters Most, Hutson and Johnson conducted interviews with leaders in crisis situations — the Oklahoma City bombing, Hurricane Katrina, 9/11, the 2008 financial crisis, the Boston Marathon bombing, and numerous local disasters. They found that the leader's ability to make sense of events for themselves and others was crucial to recovery.
As the organization segues from “What just happened?” to “What do we do with what just happened?” a leader must create a lucid narrative to address confusion, bewilderment, and disorientation. A crisis leader must be a storyteller.
There are good reasons for this. A crisis requires more from a leader than personal courage, and more from the leadership team than a plan for business continuity. In chaos or calamity, the greatest loss an organization can experience is the loss of meaning. When meaning is disrupted, we feel unsafe, out of control, baffled, or dazed. Without meaning, we don’t trust our ability to understand what is going on or to imagine what could happen next. We need coherence. We need a story.
Neuroscientists, social psychologists, and PTSD therapists all support the importance of narratives in making traumatic events comprehensible. When the future is uncertain, stories told well by trusted leaders convey emotions in a way that unites us, creates room for reason — and bolsters hope.