Leadership in a time of complexity

Table of contents


A true and effective leader reacts to critical incidents especially in times of stress and challenge. He sets an example and is clear about the “rules of the road” and then adheres to them along the journey. Clarity, consensus and intensity are three essential factors for aligning values of leaders with those of the followers. The importance of shared values is that they channel and focus people’s energies and commitments.

Leadership during a Crisis

Leadership in critical times was clearly seen in the Hurricane Katrina which hit the Gulf Coast. The U.S. government agencies tasked with relief and rehabilitation operations seem to remain in limbo.  One of which is Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which reportedly delivered a mere 15 percent of the travel trailers and mobile homes that it hurriedly purchased for temporary housing. The Chicago Tribune reported that FEMA ordered 125,000 travel trailers or mobile homes after Katrina struck in order to provide housing for the estimated 600,000 people who have been displaced by that storm and Hurricane Rita, which hit eastern Texas and western Louisiana three weeks later. However, FEMA was only able to install 18,834 travel trailers in Louisiana and Mississippi and 494 more mobile homes in the two states.[1]

Repercussions of the Hurricane

There were also reports that a year before Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, information technology utilized by the Homeland Security Department to support disaster management was so disconnected and inadequate that it was necessary for employees to develop ad hoc alternatives to supplement them. This was revealed by DHS’ inspector general in a derisive report.


Thus, to point our fingers to a single cause or leadership may be overly simplistic.  The slow and inefficient disaster response may properly be viewed as the effect of various factors, including, but not exclusively, the inadequacies of the FEMA officials.[2]  All these spread far and wide, up to the very top of the government and down to the local government officials. It is sad that there was no strong leadership to have prevented this disaster. In sum, we conclude that leaders do not achieve success by themselves. Exemplary leaders enlist the support and assistance of all those who must make the project work. They involve, in some way, those who must live with the results, and they make it possible for others to do good work.


Martin, A. Hitches Show in FEMA Trailer Plan. The Chicago Tribune. Retrieved May 19. 2007 at: Memo: FEMA had problems before Katrina.
USA Today.Retrieved May 19. 2007 at: http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/executive/2005-10-17-fema-memos_x.htm

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