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Valuable Leadership Insights for Modern Emergency Managers
December 12, 2012
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This week Businessweek ran an interview with (relatively) new Apple CEO Tim Cook to discuss his vision of leadership.  Although radically different than his predecessor Steve Jobs, Cook seems to have a clear and distinct vision of what it takes to run a successful organization.  Upon review, I think Cooks principles are clear, concise, and very applicable to emergency managers -- particularly those struggling with how to embrace social media and emergency technologies.  Cook's takeaways are as follows:

1. Diversity of Leadership -- Cook stresses that diversity is not just a buzzword for HR or a political correct organization, but rather can significant improve the efficiency and effectiveness of an organization.  While most emergency managers are not looking at profit driven results like Cook, I think there is a strong possibility that involving a diverse mix of people in the emergency management planning and preparedness process will improve ideas, increase engagement, and ultimately improve preparedness.

2. Transparency is Key -- This is a point that is becoming increasingly important to government organizations and is absolutely critical when emergency management organizations engage their constituents in a social media environment.  Nothing can be hidden so why not embrace being open and improve engagement and belief that your organization is doing everything possible to be prepared.

3. Listen to Customer Feedback --  Cook stresses reading customer emails if for no other reason than to be humbled.  Customers, constituents, citizens, clients, and communities are ultimately who we work to serve.  We need to listen to them.  The public no longer looks at government like a parental system ("Don't Do This!"), but rather as a system that (often without choice) controls many components of their life.  If they could find these services elsewhere (which is happening more and more with technology), our citizens probably would.  Be humble and remind yourself that we are here to serve.

4. Do a Few Great Things -- This is perhaps the most interesting point Cook makes.  He stresses that Apple's tremendous success was based on the fact that they focused on only a handful of things and did them extremely well.  They dominate the music player, cell phone, and tablet markets with only a handful of options.  Believe it or not, emergency managers can take this same attitude.  We need to focus limited resources on a limited number of projects or initiatives that we can do really well.  The remaining "necessary" issues need to come in partnership with volunteer groups, public-private partnerships, student internships, and other alternative strategies.  This is a monumental shift for most organizations who try to juggle so many proverbial balls that we probably don't do anything really well.  We simply do everything so-so.

5.  Admit When You Are Wrong -- Much like customer feedback, it is important for emergency management organizations to admit when we get something wrong.  No one likes mea culpas, but it is critically important.  Our constituents know exactly when we screw up.  There's no sense in trying to deny it.  The faster we embrace and fix it, the faster we can get back to do doing a few things great and ultimately improve our communities.

In the end, these types of approaches are coming whether we are comfortable with them or not.  Citizens no longer accept that government is different.  They question why a three year old can manipulate an iPhone, but we struggle to have touch screen voting booths.  These things must be addressed and Cook provides some great insight.

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