To send content items to your account,
please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies.
If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account.
Find out more about sending content to .
To send content items to your Kindle, first ensure email@example.com
is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings
on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part
of your Kindle email address below.
Find out more about sending to your Kindle.
Note you can select to send to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations.
‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi.
‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.
Constructing Crisis was conceived and executed under the assumption that ideas have consequences, that how we think helps shape how we act. The goal throughout has been to prompt a rethinking of the notion of crisis, with particular focus on the relationship between leaders and their claims of urgency.
Whether as members of a group, employees of an organization, or citizens of a country, we face numerous and varied claims on our attention by leaders. Focus on this, we are urged. Ignore that. Constructing Crisis advocates for a deliberative, critical response to all such claims. Crises are not things to be managed; they are claims to be appraised thoughtfully and critically.
When Stanford University’s Larry Diamond worried about a “crisis in the liberal democratic order,” he called attention to a “zeitgeist” in which “around the world, many democracies were hanging by a thread and aspiring autocrats were preparing more savage assaults on what remained of freedom.” Diamond’s argument was powerful and, perhaps to some, persuasive. But let’s face it. Zeitgeist is not a thing, not a material object. Like its first cousin, culture, zeitgeist is a conceptual shortcut for offering an interpretation of a prevailing spirit or mood. Deploying the term “zeitgeist” amounts to an attempt to amass the thoughts and behaviors of individuals into a coherent whole and then to proceed as if that whole was a real thing.
For leaders hoping to learn how to manage a crisis, any crisis, a robust crisis management industry exists offering just that kind of practical, step-by-step advice. As a sampling of such practical titles indicates, the emphasis is on packaging specific formulae to help guide a response to crisis events:
It’s an iconic moment from a classic fifties-era Broadway musical. The Music Man, con artist “Professor” Harold Hill, is about to arrive in the fictional town of River City, Iowa. His goal is to sell the locals something they neither want nor need: marching band instruments and uniforms. Now, he had no intention of delivering those goods. He is a con man, after all. The plan, instead, is to take the money and run. But Harold Hill has this nagging problem to solve first: how to create demand where there is none.
In the once-glorious-kingdom-under-threat master narrative, crisis is problematized as a “bad” situation. The crisis event is taken to be a threat, an attack, a disturbance, a storm, a panic, a failure, a loss, a disaster, some higher-order trouble, a horrific occurrence, a grave predicament, an existential danger, something unthinkable. All things to be avoided if possible and dealt with when necessary. If not managed effectively, after all, the potential outcomes are instability and damage, placing at risk the very existence of the unit. The leader’s job is to navigate the unit through the turmoil unleashed by the crisis and preserve the status quo. This is the dominating view of the crisis-as-event model.
ConstructingCrisis is about an idea, and that is the idea of crisis. What do we mean when we use or hear that term? What suggestions or thoughts are communicated when our leaders deploy the word? And how does that deployment impact the dynamics that unfold within our business organizations, our communities, and our societies?
Most usually, the idea of crisis conjures up images of threatening events, occurrences that present a serious risk. A business crisis, for instance, may take the form of a public revelation of maleficence on the part of key executives or flawed product design that led to injuries or deaths. Unwelcomed takeover bids and serious financial losses might also trigger what we refer to as a crisis. Will the business survive? In that way, we may understand crisis to be not just a risk but also an existential threat, placing the very future of the company in jeopardy.
When Colin Powell appeared before the UN Security Council to stake his reckless claim (plausible but inaccurate) that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was amassing weapons of mass destruction, he brought with him a credibility built up over years of service to the US government and its military. It was precisely that credibility that President Bush intended to leverage into public, even global support for his war of choice against Iraq. But there was something else in play when Powell made his claim.
Powell told a good story, one with a compelling narrative, a frightening villain, and a heroic posse ready to charge in to save the day. Jenny McCarthy told a forceful story as well, one with evil, uncaring scientists relying on “bullshit” research to pose a threat to the children of America. There is nothing like a compelling narrative to help convey a claim to its intended audience.
Crises were made for leaders. Leaders were made for crises.
The crisis-as-event model is clear on that point. Leaders navigate their units through the turbulence wrought by crisis events. When companies face financial turmoil, the board hires a CEO to lead the organization to recovery and prosperity. Countries engulfed in war look to their leaders – think of the outsized roles played by Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill during World War II – to offer guidance, strength, and a steady hand. These are the folks who determine success or failure, rejuvenation or death. Leaders and leadership sit front and center in the crisis-as-event model.
The literature emerging from within the crisis-as-event model intends to be imminently practical and extremely useful. Based on the best available evidence and on an analysis of past approaches to crisis management, these experts tell us, here is what leaders should do and what they must avoid.
But while offering actionable advice, the crisis-as-event model underplays theory. To be sure, there is an underlying theory to the model: a positivist approach that holds that crises are real, material things and leaders respond in an effort to “own” that crisis to save/redeem/revitalize the threatened entity. So it isn’t that the crisis-as-event literature is atheoretical, exactly. It’s just that the theorizing is tacit rather than explicit, unspoken rather than acknowledged. That’s a problem.
The crisis-as-claim model assumes that all claims are exercises in power and assertions of interests. Furthermore, the model urges that the intended audience for a claim retain a critical posture. We can and should question the legitimacy of all claims. But questioning, even doubting, is not the same as disparaging or dismissing. We need to find an approach to distinguish legitimacy in a claim. What, exactly, does it mean to say this claim is (or is not) legitimate?
There is no such thing as a crisis. Rather than an actual, corporeal thing, a crisis is a claim asserted from a position of power and influence, intended to shape the understanding of others. A constructed crisis by a leader may or may not be legitimate, and, legitimate or not, the content of a claim alone does not determine whether people decide to believe it. Rather than viewing crises as the result of objective events, Spector demonstrates that leaders impose crises on organizations to strategically assert power and exert control. Interpreting crisis through a critical lens, this interdisciplinary book encompasses not just management and organizational literature, but also sociology, history, cognitive science, and psychology. The resulting wide-ranging, critical, and provocative analysis will appeal in particular to students and academics researching leadership and crisis management.