A terrorist group has just exploded a nuclear “suitcase” bomb in a suburb of Los Angeles. A continent away advisors seated at a conference table are offering advice to the president. Thankfully this scenario is fiction; it is taken from the scene in the popular Fox series, 24. Plot twists and geo political nightmares aside, this recent episode, Hour 5, was a tutorial on leadership behavior during times of crisis. The president, Wayne Palmer, brother of a slain president from earlier seasons of 24, is calm, decisive, and in control.
Typically watching television is escape from reality, but we can learn a few things about behaving like a leader from the example of this fictional TV president. These include.
Authority. Palmer radiates authority. Around the conference table, generals and civilians argue. The president listens, but remains above the fray. He is in control and he knows it. Such authority comes from the position the leader holds. On 24, he is the president. In a corporation, she may be the CEO or a front line manager. Whatever the leadership role, authority is essential. It is the outward display of responsibility.
Decisiveness. When an admiral advocates for a retaliatory nuclear strike against some nations in the Middle East, Palmer cuts him off. After all the attack in the U.S. was pulled off by a terrorist group, and to date, the government does not know if there is any state power behind such a group. So Palmer holds his ground. No attack now, but there will be retribution at the appropriate time. Leaders first and foremost must decide; they must act with deliberation, but also with firmness and conviction.
Calmness. Throughout the crisis, aides scurry and bicker, but Palmer remains cool and collected. His face betrays his concerns but he remains outwardly cool. Composure is an asset for any leader, especially in crisis. Such calmness always brings down the temperature of the room. And in turn allows not only the leader, but also his team to think with greater clarity and with a more level collective head.
What’s more, 24’s president is very human. Before he is to go on television for his presidential address, he confesses that he is nervous. At the same time he understands that as the commander in chief, he cannot show fear, to which an aide concurs. Yet, Palmer the man is not afraid to admit his humanity. A sense of vulnerability in a leader is a good thing; it keeps the more accessible to and real for his follower. Even when the role is only played on television!