Sarah Robbins blog

Leading In The Midst Of Crisis- Leadership Lessons Of September 11


Leading In The Midst Of Crisis- Leadership Lessons Of September 11

I will never forget the day I heard about the attacks on 9.11. I was in college, taking a nap, and my mother Kris came bursting into the room with tears: “Wake up, our nation is under attack”. That was a day that none of us will forget, and our lives were forever changed.


This unexpected, unimaginable tragedy brought conflict and pain to the lives of many. Through time, it also brought us closer together as a nation. What was intended to derail us completely actually unified us and made us stronger together.


We can learn so many lessons from that day. As a leader, I think about times where I’ve experienced conflict, and the choices that I’ve made in response—allowing these experiences to grow me, refine me, and to strengthen to my team.


Over the past 18 months I went through a frightening challenge with my health, a conflict in business, and a personal family tragedy that most will never have to experience. If I had to describe the past 18 months I would say, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”.


Why “the best of times,” you ask? Because what came from some of my toughest times were some of the greatest blessings of my life—greater unity with my husband, greater unity with my leaders, greater faith in my God, and all of this refined me into becoming the leader I was intended to be.


I was recently reading an article about how Rudy Giuliani reacted to the 9.11 tragedies, challenges and conflict that came from that day.


Regardless of your current political opinions, Rudy Guiliani’s leadership during 9.11 is something we can all learn from. In his book Leadership, he says, “It is in times of crisis that good leaders emerge.” I agree.


He shares four main things we must do in times of crisis as leaders:



 “While mayor, I made it my policy to see with my own eyes the scene of every crisis so I could evaluate it firsthand.”


During the times of my personal challenges and crisis I continued to be front and center for my team. It would have been easiest to stop doing training calls, and go into “hiding”. I chose to continue to lead with strength, and remain very visible. I kept systems in place for them to plug into, and kept them focused on the vision for what was ahead for us as a unified body.



“Leaders have to control their emotions under pressure. Much of your ability to get people to do what they have to do is going to depend on what they perceive when they look at you and listen to you. They need to see someone who is stronger than they are, but human, too.”


No one knew what we were going through during that season of our life. I treasure my influence and I don’t take it lightly. My ability to cast a vision and lead a group to greatness is a responsibility. I believe that how I respond to situations is my responsibility as a leader. We stayed rooted and grounded in our responding—putting others first and showing them love even in the times where we needed it the most. Again, this period in my life refined me. Where I used to react, I now respond thoughtfully and carefully to each conflict or criticism that may come my way.



 “I had to communicate with the public, to do whatever I could to calm people down and contribute to a orderly and safe evacuation [of lower Manhattan.]”


I prayed for opportunities to have the ability to have conversations with the right people when the time was right, all while staying calm and in control.  I didn’t gossip, fault find, murmur or complain. I focused on leading with integrity and strength.



“I am an optimist by nature. I think things will get better, that the good people of America and New York City will overcome any challenge thrown our way. So in the face of this overwhelming disaster, standing amid sixteen acres of smoldering ruins, I felt a mixture of disbelief and confidence… that Americans would rise to this challenge.”


Although our leadership challenges can’t compare with the tragedies of 9.11, they can be enough to discourage, distract, or defeat our team. It is up to us to continue to set the pace, unify, and cast a vision for those we lead—and to forge ahead, and lead them to the places they’ve been longing to go regardless of situations and circumstances that we may be personally encountering, or encountering as a team.


How we respond to challenges in life refine us, mold us, and shape us into the people we are today. Good or bad, we can choose to dwell, or we can choose to live in forgiveness and in unity with those who choose to unify with this.


We will never forget the pain of that day. And I will never forget some of the painful experiences in my life. But what I have learned is that we have to continue to have vision for a greater future, and to continue to love and lead during our journey.


On this September 11 anniversary, what examples of leadership stand out in your mind?