Leadership lessons from the Grenfell Tower Fire

Having spent 32 years in the Royal Marines and several years working in Whitehall and in the security services, where I have first hand experience of the COBRA meetings, I am shocked and saddened by the way this recent crisis has been lead and handled.

With this very sad and preventable disaster, that occurred on the 14th June, with its catastrophic loss of life, there has been understandably anger, dismay and outpourings of grief from the local community. The disaster has lead to marches and protests in search of someone or something to blame with the loss of life being the primary catalyst for the anger but also the vacuum that has existed around the incident.

Initially, there did not appear to be any central official point near the scene on the ground where people could go to get answers and support. No single focus that coordinated the incident and the chaos caused by it, no central help centre where people can get information and support. No identified officials helping confused and desperate people to the offers of aid and counselling, accommodation and donations.

Whilst there has been a huge voluntary response, with local churches and others helping people this has been done in the best way possible without coordination or information. London the capital city of the UK and the worlds twenty second largest city is looking like it cannot help itself. The media seek out spokes people and representatives who are prepared to talk whilst the whole gamut of UK organisations who have responsibility to provide that leadership seem to shirk their leadership duties.

Donations have flooded in – too many now – such is the public response and unseen officials are caring for those in hospital and working to find empty accommodation in which to house those left homeless. However, the media still portrays a picture of chaos on the ground with local people speaking of a total lack of coordination from the government and Kensington and Chelsea council.

Leadership during crisis is there to build confidence, to reassure people and to coordinate efforts to alleviate some of the suffering caused by the crisis. Leadership coordinates a response to a crisis, it leads and sets the pathway to normality, it ensures the aid donated is used as effectively as possible, it procures the right aid by seeking what is required rather than leaving it to individuals to decide what’s needed. It focuses information, so those that need information can find it and it coordinates the long term response so that those who need long term rehousing, counselling, financial and social support get it.

Strong leadership during such incidents needs to be visible so it can lead effectively. So that it can be communicated with. So that it can resolve issues quickly and efficiently. So that other less capable leaders aren’t empowered through a leadership vacuum. And information is corrupted by imagination and misinformation. It must be prepared to have anger and hurt directed towards it. It must be prepared to stand up and stand out for the right reasons. Such leadership has been missing in the Grenfell Fire as UK leaders appear to distance themselves as they try to avoid blame.

From the Prime Minister down to Kensington and Chelsea Council this fire has shown how NOT to lead in a crisis.

Lessons for Crisis management:

My background in the military involved the resolution and management of many crises, I have been shocked and astounded by the inaction of leaders whose job it is to resolve such issues.

Where is great British Leadership?



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