Exhibiting Crisis Leadership
Part 4 of the 5-Part Series on Crisis Communication
After understanding the organization, organizational leaders, the organization's stakeholders and the media environment, we next shift our focus on exhibiting crisis leadership.
The amalgamation of the Image Repair Theory (IRT) and the Situational Crisis Communication Theory (SCCT) strategies along the Contingency Theory continuum of ‘advocacy’ and ‘accommodation’, as proposed by Pang, Ho, and Malik (2012, as cited in Ismail et. al., 2019), according to me is the most comprehensive model offering Crisis Response Strategies (CRS) to practitioners. If we can map this amalgamated model (Pang et. al., 2012, as cited in Ismail et. al., 2019) and the new CRS – diversion, logorrhea and machismo – beyond IRT and SCCT (Ismail et. al., 2019), with the Revised ICM Model (Jin et. al., 2012, as cited in Pang et. al., 2013), it might give practitioners the complete edifice of CRS, to respond to stakeholders based on their emotional needs (Jin & Pang, 2010, as cited in Pang et. al., 2013) and the respective stance of the organization on the Contingency Theory continuum (Pang et al., 2020). While the idea of this CRS edifice is exhilarating, I would now continue my quest to dive deeper into the explanation of exhibiting crisis leadership.
To better explain the CONSOLE framework on how to break bad news during a crisis (Tan et. al., 2019) and how to satisfy ‘information vacuum’ (IV) during a crisis and drive the communication (Pang, 2013), I tried to analyse the Southwest Airlines (SA) Flight 1380 crisis – the flight from New York to Dallas had to divert to Philadelphia after one of the engines exploded, which resulted in damage to the fuselage and death of one passenger (Rutherford, 2018). With passengers streaming the events following the explosion live on social media and shared photographs and videos from the plane while it was still in the air (McCartney, 2018; Healy & Hauser, 2018) the crisis escalated very fast. Based on the Revised ICM Model (Jin et. al., 2012, as cited in Pang et. al., 2013), the crisis falls in Quadrant 2, requiring high engagement from the organization and cognitive coping from the stakeholders with the presence of the emotions of anxiety, sadness, and fright, along with anger. And, based on the amalgamated model proposed by Pang et. al. (2012, as cited in Ismail et. al., 2019) the ideal CRS for SA would have been cooperation, compensation, and corrective action on the ‘accommodation’ end of the continuum – SA did exactly that.
Soon after the flight successfully landed, SA issued a statement on Twitter that they are investigating the matter and safety of the passengers and crew is their priority (Southwest Airlines, 2018), launched a microsite which consolidated information (Rutherford, 2018), the logo on online properties was changed to a grey broken heart (Fan, 2018), and stopped all marketing and promotion (Josephs, 2018). This was followed by several statements by the CEO on the same day to deliver the key messages, filled with integrity, dignity and empathy that revolved around – the entire SA fraternity being deeply saddened by the passenger fatality and they would support the family of the deceased through the grieving process, safety of passengers being of prime importance for SA, the organization cooperating with the authorities in the investigation, appreciating the flight crew for safely landing the aircraft and the authorities in Philadelphia for swift action, and informing about the launch of the emergency response program to support those impacted (Rutherford, 2018; WFAA, 2018). As the explosion occurred in the engine, a video of the CEO speaking in simple language on the engine safety protocols followed by SA was also released (Rutherford, 2018). As compensation, passengers were provided a flight to Dallas the same evening (Shine, 2018) and SA gave $5,000 checks and $1,000 travel vouchers to all passengers with a message from the CEO to accept the organization’s apologies (Business Journal, 2018). During the entire period of crisis communication and image repair, the microsite from SA was consistently updated with accurate information on the investigation and actions taken (Rutherford, 2018).
In my analysis, SA displayed strength in all the components of the CONSOLE framework (Tan et. al., 2019) and satisfied the IV (Pang, 2013) through the statements it issued and the actions it took following the crisis. A passenger of the flight was quoted by Shine (2018) to describe SA’s communication and actions as “friendly, understanding, concerned,” and in a survey only two months after the crisis, nearly half of the participants said they had positive image of SA – the best among the other American airlines (Murphy, 2018). Thus, validating the successful crisis management and image repair strategies employed by the organization.
Business Journal. (2018). Southwest Airlines offering $5,000 checks to passengers aboard flight 1380. https://www.bizjournals.com/dallas/news/2018/04/20/southwest-airlines-offering-5-000-checks-to.html
Fan, K. (2018). Southwest Flight 1380: What You Need To Know. The Points Guy. https://thepointsguy.com/news/what-happened-on-southwest-flight-1380/
Healy, J., & Hauser, C. (2018). Inside Southwest Flight 1380, 20 Minutes of Chaos and Terror. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/18/us/southwest-plane-engine-failure.html
Ismail, N., Pagulayan, M. A., Francia, C. M. A., & Pang, A. (2019). Communicating in the Post-Truth era: Analyses of crisis response strategies of Presidents Donald Trump and Rodrigo Duterte. Journal of Public Affairs, 19 (1), 1-11. https://doi.org/10.1002/pa.1883
Josephs, L. (2018). Southwest Airlines preps for revenue drop after fatal accident, scales back growth. CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2018/06/04/southwest-expects-revenue-decline-following-.html
McCartney, C. (2018). At Southwest Airlines, the Minutes After Disaster Struck. The Wall Street Journal. https://www.wsj.com/articles/at-southwest-airlines-the-minutes-after-disaster-struck-1524586032
Murphy, B., Jr. (2018). Southwest Is Rated the Top U.S. Airline, but People Overwhelmingly Prefer This Surprising Alternative (New Survey). Inc. https://www.inc.com/bill-murphy-jr/southwest-is-rated-top-us-airline-but-people-overwhelmingly-prefer-this-surprising-alternative-new-survey.html
Pang, A. (2013). Dealing with External Stakeholders during the Crisis: Managing the Information Vacuum. In A. J. DuBrin (Ed.). Handbook of Research on Crisis Leadership in Organizations (pp. 209-229). Edward Elgar Publishing. https://doi.org/10.4337/9781781006405.00020
Pang, A., Jin, Y., Kim, S., & Cameron, G. (2020). 6. Contingency theory: Evolution from a public relations theory to a theory of strategic conflict management. In F. Frandsen & W. Johansen (Ed.), Crisis Communication (pp. 141-164). De Gruyter Mouton. https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110554236-006
Pang, A., Kim, H. J., & Chaidaroon, S. (2013). Dealing with emotions of stakeholders during crises: Why should leaders care? In A. J. DuBrin (Ed.). Handbook of Research on Crisis Leadership in Organizations (pp. 127-148). Edward Elgar Publishing. https://doi.org/10.4337/9781781006405.00015
Rutherford, L. (2018). Southwest Airlines Confirms Accident; Our Hearts Are With Those Affected. Southwest. https://community.southwest.com/t5/Blog/Southwest-Airlines-Confirms-Accident-Our-Hearts-Are-With-Those/ba-p/71993
Shine, C. (2018). Southwest's heavy heart: How the LUV airline is responding to the worst accident in its history. The Dallas Morning News. https://www.dallasnews.com/business/local-companies/2018/04/22/southwest-s-heavy-heart-how-the-luv-airline-is-responding-to-the-worst-accident-in-its-history/
Southwest Airlines [@SouthwestAir]. (2018, April 18). Update on Flight #1380: [Tweet; image attached]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/SouthwestAir/status/986283039339810817
Tan, K. Y., Pang, A., & Kang, J. X. (2019). Breaking bad news with CONSOLE: Toward a framework integrating medical protocols with crisis communication. Public Relations Review, 45, 153-166. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pubrev.2018.10.013
WFAA. (2018, April 18). Southwest CEO mourns loss of passenger on Dallas-bound flight [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hu3yfAA8aI8