Points to Ponder

On Leadership
February 5, 2013
Charleston Mayor Joe Riley ’64 spoke to a packed room of cadet leaders on Tuesday, 5
February, as part of The Citadel Cadet/Mentor Program. Right up front, Mr. Mayor reminded us
what’s so special about The Citadel. “It’s a place,” he said, “you are learning so many lessons
every day and not necessarily knowing that you are.” That’s probably so, but no one left
yesterday’s event with the Mayor without knowing they had learned a thing or two about
He related several personal experiences from his time as Mayor to drive home his message. For
me, his Hurricane Hugo story was most powerful. Just walking through his thinking and how he
led the city through the storm provides us with a great frame of reference the next time we’re
faced with leading a team through crisis. Take a look at each of the Mayor’s actions below. In
each case, what do you think about “what” the Mayor did and “why” he did it?
1. When Hugo was still in Caribbean and days away, the Mayor said, “I could feel it in my
bones that we need to be ready. I need to prepare us.”
2. Before landfall, he called his core team together and told them, “I want everyone to see this
storm as an opportunity. If it hits us, we’ll have the opportunity to serve our people when it
matters most.”
3. Before landfall, he reached out to Mayors of the Gulf Coast for insight and advice. Because
of that advice, “I was able to set the right tone and tenure with the people of Charleston to get
them to evacuate,” said the Mayor.
4. In the eye of the storm, before the backend of the storm wreaked havoc on Charleston, the
Mayor gathered his team again and said, “we did a good job preparing. Now, we’re going to
do the best recovery that’s ever been done. We’re not going to let up for even one second
until we’re back as a city.”
Mr. Mayor started his remarks by saying, “when I stand up here and talk about leadership to you,
I feel as if I’m more than preaching to the choir.” Well, Mr. Mayor, the choir was listening...and
taking notes, too. Thank you, Sir.
Points to Ponder
How do you prepare to lead in a crisis?
How important is it for a leader in crisis to keep the team focused?
When is a crisis over from a leader’s perspective?
Summary provided by Col Christopher “Mort” Bowman, Col, USAF (Ret)
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