Effective Crisis Leadership: An Interview with Dr. Jeff Fox, PhD

Leadership isn’t easy.  While managing and leading during a routine day – the type of day where you know the general “outline” of your day might look like or what “should” happen that day — yes, there can still be challenges, but most leaders learn to navigate these waters.

But leading during a crisis event? Like during 9/11? or the Pulse Night Club Shooting? Or during an expansive, natural disaster like Hurricane Katrina?

That’s a whole different story. And even experienced leaders can be tested to their very core during situations like these.

Join one of JCH’s most popular webinar presenters, Dr. Jeff Fox, PhD as he:

  • outlines the necessary skills needed to be an effective crisis leader,
  • discusses the basics of collaborative leadership, systems thinking, and creativity in the crisis situation,
  • explores the importance of emotional intelligence, risk communication,
  • reviews the art and science of influence and negotiation,
  • and highlights exemplary leaders who have dealt with crises.


(This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.)


Justice Clearinghouse Editors (JCH): Your webinar is about Effective Crisis Leadership. How is “Crisis Leadership” different from “Regular” Leadership?

Dr. Jeff Fox PhD:  I would say regular leadership occurs or should occur on a daily basis. Those in leadership positions go about carrying out their duties and are hopefully leading their employees to accomplish the goals of the agency or business. Of course, some agencies are in the crisis response business so they are likely to deal with such events daily. However, a crisis can come in many forms and fashions and can hit closer to home than one may hope for or expect.

Let’s first look at the word crisis. For our purposes, we can substitute many other words just as easily such as a major negative event or incident, a disaster, a severe accident, a sudden loss of many things such as people, trust, or funding, a scandal such as employee criminality, an attack by a criminal or terrorist, and the list goes on. Just as it takes leadership to be successful during normal conditions it takes even greater leadership skills to respond to and recover from a crisis.

Finally, right or wrong I think most supervisors tend to operate from a management mindset most of the time. This is not necessarily wrong. It is important to note however that there are differences between management and leadership. Both are needed and important by the way. Even during a crisis response, both are needed. What is also needed though is that those managers realize and understand what leadership style they are using or not using. This becomes even more significant when a unified command is formed and many leaders must work together in harmony.



On a micro level, I witnessed local events

where some leaders failed to step up and others rose to the occasion.

I have seen leaders extinguish proverbial fires

and others create chaos and fan the flames only to spread the fire.

Dr. Jeff Fox



JCH: What are some of the most important crisis events you’ve read about or studied?

Dr. Jeff Fox PhD:  In 2009, while finishing my PhD, I completed my dissertation work on “Analyzing Leadership Styles of Incident Commanders.” My decision to study this topic was based on three decades of being led and leading crisis responses. However, what prompted my decision to analyze crisis leadership were two major events those being 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. Historically, I like to look at all the major wars we have been in and examine the various leadership styles of the civilian and military commanders during those times.

On a micro level, I witnessed local events where some leaders failed to step up and others rose to the occasion. I have seen leaders extinguish proverbial fires and others create chaos and fan the flames only to spread the fire.

JCH: Some say that while, yes, reading books and theories are important, there is nothing like real-world, hands-on experience to really learn something.  What have your own experiences from your time in law enforcement taught you about effective crisis leadership?

Dr. Jeff Fox PhD:  First, I would agree with the question as stated. Texts, journal articles, and theories are all important and great but nothing can substitute for the real-life experience of being led or leading during a crisis. Of course, one can learn from other’s successes or failures as well. I always advocate learning from others experiences when possible. This is why debriefings and after-action reports are so important and valuable. Unfortunately, I probably learned more of what not to do than I did what to do in most of my experiences early on in my police career. Without getting too deep into the weeds here the main thing that is needed during a crisis is good management and leadership. Regardless of what leadership style a person may possess or use the last style that should be used is laissez-faire leadership during a crisis. The only thing worse is no leadership at all.




JCH: You’ve lead an incredibly rich, diverse career in the justice arena. What is it about leadership in this particular profession that fascinates you?

Dr. Jeff Fox PhD:  I have been fascinated by leadership in all its forms from an early age. Two of my early loves in life were history and the military so military history has probably always been my favorite topic outside of my career focused areas. Just as it is for policing those leaders in the military have held the lives of their troops in their hands. They have also held the fate of the mission or battle in their hands. It doesn’t get any more real, serious, or important than that.


Just as it takes leadership to be successful during normal conditions

it takes even greater leadership skills

to respond to and recover from a crisis.

Dr. Jeff Fox


JCH: A large number of our readers and subscribers are in law enforcement, but we have representation from all parts of the justice arena. And, unfortunately, it seems we have a Mass Shooting event on a somewhat regular basis these days. Can you share some specifics of what different types of justice professionals or first responders will gain by attending your webinar? What skills or new knowledge will they gain that they can immediately use the next day on the job?

Dr. Jeff Fox PhD:  Our first responders will all be very familiar with the concepts and requirements of the National Response Framework, National Incident Management System, and the Incident Command System. These are all basically mandated programs which offer great tools, structure, advice, and guidance for any crisis. We have all established these documents as part of our institutional policies and procedures and we train to them and hopefully respond based on their guidance. However, I view these as management tools which are fine but they do not offer answers as to how to lead.

First, I believe in teaching and preparing from an all-hazards perspective. Having said that, first responders from any discipline will find great utility in the presentation. We will provide attendees with a strong foundation for understanding and implementing the necessary skills needed to be an effective crisis leader. We will examine collaborative leadership, systems thinking, and creativity. We will discuss emotional intelligence, risk communication, and the art and science of influence and negotiation. Further, we will consider conflict management. Finally, we will look at exemplary leaders who dealt with crises.


To watch “Effective Crisis Leadership,” Click here.

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