USS Cole Captain Encourages Leaders to Develop Critical Thinking Skills for Crisis Management

USS Cole Captain Encourages Leaders to Develop Critical Thinking Skills for Crisis Management

Kirk Lippold used his experiences on board the terrorist-attacked ship for outlining seven "human factors in crisis management."

October 30, 2017
Brad Harbison

BALTIMORE — "Being able to survive a crisis does not happen in the moment that it occurs; it happens by all of the training you do ahead of time. Going through that training and thinking through the unthinkable is what will allow you to survive."

Those words were spoken by Commander Kirk Lippold as part of Thursday's Syngenta-sponsored General Session at NPMA PestWorld 2017. If anyone should know about surviving a crisis it is Lippold, who was the Commanding Officer of the USS Cole on Oct. 12, 2000, when the ship was attacked and bombed by Al-Qaeda terrorists during a refueling stop in the Yemeni port of Aden, killing 17 U.S. sailors.

The critical decisions made by Lippold and the sailors aboard the USS Cole minimized the damage and saved lives. He used his experiences on board the USS Cole that fateful day for outlining seven "human factors in crisis management."

Stay calm — If you as the leader of your organization do not take the time to center yourself and take that deep breath, panic and uncertainty will set in and that will spread to those looking up to you, Lippold said.

Focus — When a person who works for you comes to you with a problem, it might be just a little "wedge of concern in your world," but it is a major concern in their world. Take the time to listen and focus on what they are saying and make the best decision possible.

Make Decisions — In a crisis it is not true that sometimes making no decision is the best decision, Lippold said. "You have to make decisions, and you have to do so based on the information you have at the time." 

Act now - Think Ahead — "This is when you say, 'OK, I'm dealing with this now...but what is the next thing after that, and the next thing after that?'"

People First — What does your team — and perhaps their families — need to get through the crisis. This is critical because you will be relying on them to work extended hours.

Communicate — Lippold said it is important to communicate not only with your team members, but with others in your industry. For example, when a hurricane hits, keep the lines of communication open with your industry colleagues.

Recover — After taking the aforementioned steps, re-evaluate where you are at and make adjustments as necessary during the recovery process.

In looking back at the events following the USS Cole explosion Lippold said that the aforementioned critical thinking skills helped the crew and him get through the crisis. Had they not acted with decisiveness while maintaining calm any number of calamities could have occurred, including additional explosions and the possibility that the boat would take on more water and sink.