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  • Podcast
  • Crisis Management

The OSRL Podcast: The Response Force Multiplier - Episode 4

In this episode, we join OSRL's Global Learning and Development Manager, Dean Wasche, as he delves deep into the world of crisis leadership and the complex context within which it operates.

  • By Dean Wasche
  • Dec 5, 2023
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Crisis Leadership: Making Decisions in Complex Situations

In our latest episode, we delve deep into the world of crisis leadership and the complex context within which it operates. Our guest, Dean Wasche, Global Learning and Development Manager at Oil Spill Response, offers valuable insights and definitions of leadership. He highlights how leadership in crisis situations differs from day-to-day leadership, emphasising the immense pressure crisis leaders face.

Dean demonstrates the challenges and nuances of crisis leadership through real-life examples, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and oil spill responses. He emphasises the importance of acknowledging complexity, recognising the role of experts, and making informed decisions in the face of uncertainty.

Join us as we explore the dynamic world of crisis leadership, providing valuable insights for leaders in both emergency response and everyday contexts. Whether you're an experienced leader or aspiring to be one, this episode offers practical wisdom to enhance your leadership skills under pressure.

Podcast Transcript


leader, ultimately, crisis, leadership, incident, work, situation, domain, decision, behaviours, complex, disordered, oil spill response, role, complicated, people, system, experts, ability, develop


Paul Kelway, Dean Wasche


Paul Kelway  00:01

Hello, and welcome to the Response Force Multiplier, On the Response Force Multiplier, we bring together compelling experts and thought leaders to provide a fresh take on key issues and cutting edge techniques. In each episode, we'll dive into one aspect of emergency planning and response. And we'll use OSRL's unique pool of experts and collaborators to gain new insights. And to distill these down into actionable tools and techniques for better preparedness and response to crisis incidents and emergencies. My name is Paul Kelway We are OSRL. And this is the Response Force Multiplier. In this episode, we continue our journey looking at the tools and techniques to effectively perform under pressure in crisis incidents and emergencies by looking at the role of leadership. Leading a team, an organization or even a country during intense, uncertain and chaotic events brings a unique set of challenges for any person, especially when the consequences are real, and potentially far reaching. But are the abilities to survive and thrive in these environments, traits we are born with? Or can they be learned, and how important is the type of situation we're leading in to the way we should respond, and the expectations we should place on ourselves and others in being able to achieve the best outcomes. To explore this, we speak with my colleague, Dean Wasche. Dean, a former British Army officer is the Global Learning and Development Manager at OSRL. Dean has been a lifelong student and practitioner of Leadership Theory and Practice, and brings his wide ranging experience to the role of training and developing our response teams and members on how to lead through crisis and uncertainty. Hi, Dean, and welcome to the show. I guess the first question is really just to ask you to describe a bit about your background personally and professionally. And I guess, currently, your relationship with emergency response crisis management and training leaders in that field. So yeah, a bit of background on that. So I've been in learning and development practitioner for the last 18 years. My interest in human performance, I guess, started at university. So I studied Sports Science at the University of Birmingham. And as I began to take my elective units of Birmingham, I became really interested in sports psychology, which of course, at its heart is the psychology of performance, and ended up doing a third year dissertation looking at the intersection between the physiological and the psychological, and in particular, how the body responds to stressors, mental stressors, in certain conditions. So that was really interesting. And it really sort of got me into the importance of psychology, of physiology and of performance generally, I then joined the army and I went through the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, and trained as an Army officer. And then I realized during my training that I loved developing people, it was a real passion. So I joined the learning development branch of the British Army, and spent eight great years serving as an Army officer, I worked with lots of different units, lots of different teams, some of them are considered very much meet the definition of high performance. So I got really interested in what made these teams special, what made them a high performing team. And then when I left the army, at the end of 2012, I came to work for Oil Spill Response, I came into the role of Global Learning and Development Manager shortly after joining. So my remit, then and now is all around, how do I support our responders and preparedness professionals being the best they can be, ultimately, and of course, part of that is dealing with pressure, responding to crises, or incidents. And I'll come on to the distinction that I made between those two shortly. But my remit very much today, my passion is about how to enable people to perform at their best when it matters most ultimately.   So when obviously, we're going to dive really deeply into the emergency crisis context of leadership. But before we get into that, if you were to think about leadership in general, and almost sort of offer a definition of what leadership is, and what is the role of a leader, what would come to mind for you? 

Dean Wasche  04:17

Yeah, so I think I mean, you know, you Google the term, I think you get what, like upwards of 50 million definition. So it's a well defined term, isn't it? We all know that. But for me, if I was to offer a synthesis of the best definitions I've heard, and also overlay my own experience with that, I think the essence of leadership is about uniting people in a shared cause or goal, and ultimately enabling them to achieve something that they probably wouldn't have done on their own ultimately. So, for me, the fundamental role of a leader is to push the edges of conventional thinking to whether that's organizational culture, whether that's the art of the possible and ultimately unite people in moving forward with a common cause or goal

Paul Kelway  05:00

So if we're then thinking about a sort of particular context of a crisis and emergency response, an incident, I mean, I'm assuming that in a way, it's all of those things with bells on. But would you offer any different definition of good leadership in a crisis to that definition? 

Dean Wasche  05:16

So have you thought about this one a lot. I think the raw components are the same, you know, so day to day leadership, and incident crisis leadership, I think the four components are the same. But I think what really changes is the amount of pressure that a crisis leader is under. So just to define a few terms, so for me, an incident is an unplanned event, I think that's a fairly common definition of what an incident is, to me, an incident moves into the realms of being a crisis, when the effects of that incident are potentially catastrophic for individuals or the organization itself, you know, potentially will exert an existential threat on the organization itself. And I think a mnemonic that is often used in an incident of crisis management is that PEAR mnemonic, you know, so people, environment, assets and reputation, I think, whenever an incident has the potential to or has resulted in the loss or significant injury of people, damage to the environment, loss of assets, and or as a result of all of that damage, or complete loss of reputation. I think that's when we start to get into crisis territory. So with those two definitions in mind, I think crisis leaders have to operate under extreme pressure. And I think Andy Couch's perspective on pressure is really useful. If we look at pressure, having three components expectation, scrutiny and consequence. If we think about any crisis, you know, that we can, expectations always massive, you know, that the leader is going to sort it out, ultimately, you know, they carry the expectations of often a nation state on their shoulders, if not the world, they're under massive scrutiny, you know, from government, politicians, the world's press, you know, the 24/7 news cycle. And of course, the consequences are real, you know, if it's a real crisis, and often people's lives are in danger, maybe some people have lost their lives, you know, financial ruin may be in the mix. If our mental damage and loss of important assets that will ultimately affect people's livelihood, there are real consequences in crises, I think all of those things have the potential to come together and create extreme pressure on particularly crisis leaders. So for me, that's the key distinction. You know, I think the core components of leadership, which I'm sure we'll get into, I think are the same. And therefore, the core behaviours are probably the same. But I think the ability to operate under extreme pressure is what differentiates an incident or crisis leader to an everyday sort of business as usual leader. 

Paul Kelway  07:59

And you mentioned, Andy Couch, he spoke to us about performance under pressure, he talked about some of the techniques and tools, and he talked specifically about how we develop structure, skill set, and mindset that ultimately, all of those things have to come together. And I guess, particularly when the stakes are really high, lives are at stake, or there's real consequences for how we act, how we make decisions. Where does the role of leadership or the practice of leadership fit in, in relation to that structure, skill set and mindset, trifecta, as it were? 

Dean Wasche  08:32

Yeah, I think that's a really useful trifecta in a whole range of contexts. So we can use so how we most frequently deploy the structure skill set mindset trinity is thinking about external, so ok so as a leader, externally, what structure do I operate in? You know, what system Am I in ultimately? So for example, we typically think about, you know, what are the governing principles of that system? policies, procedures, what's the organizational chart that I operate in? What is my role in relation to others roles, and that's really useful stuff, you know, important stuff, which is why we do it. Skill sets, similarly, you know, what technical behavioral skills competencies do I have, versus what I need, you know, where's the gap and how do I develop those? And then equally, mindset becomes really important, you know, people's ability to deal with pressure, but you know, growth mindset, how do they come at things with a mindset of curiosity as opposed to a closed mindset, all really useful and use of a leadership perspective to but I think it can also be useful if we turn the lens on ourselves as leaders. So for example, you can also consider structure not just as an external thing that exists outside of the leader, but as an internal thing and this is why I think it becomes particularly useful for incident crises leaders, so for example, internal structure, what is the leaders internal operating system, okay, if I was to coin a tech tip, Okay, so what is the leaders fundamental value system? What are their beliefs? What are their attitudes around the world? Ultimately, how do they make sense of the world, which I think is really important. And here I link to the work that, you know, Robert Keegan, looking at stages of adult development and an acknowledgement that as you as adults, we have the ability to move through different stages of development, essentially, how our sense making evolves, potentially, through our lifetime, some work that they have done, has concluded that actually, the vast majority of adults don't transcend beyond the first stage that is available to us as adults. You know, they don't progress beyond what Keegan and his team called the socialized stage of development. And why that's interesting, I think, particularly for leadership under pressure is that if you have a socialized form of mind, you are predominantly sourcing your sense of self worth, from external factors around you. So for example, you might source your sense of self worth, from the relationships that you have, you might source it from the results that you achieve in the world. Well, of course, the challenge with those things, particularly in a crisis, when you're under extreme pressure, is that those things can quite easily fracture, you know, relationships can become strained, can even fall away, the results you achieve aren't easy or elegant, you know, they're often hard one. So that can make you as a person very volatile because of course, if you don't achieve those things, then you run an operating system, which causes you to conclude that you are less worthy as a person ultimately. So for me here, structure is really useful. I think, ultimately, when we feel we're lacking something, as a person, we fall back on more emotional responses to things, more reactive behaviours, you know, we become triggered by stuff. So going back to Andy's podcast, yeah, this is very much we go into sort of red head territory, just fight flight freeze type behaviours, which as leaders can be very detrimental, you know, to both the incident and response that we're leading, but also to our teams, you know, we can create a really dysfunctional culture, you know, at its worst, a toxic culture around some of this reactivity ultimately so I think, structure internally is really interesting, because leaders can start to examine, and often they can only do this through either deep flexion, or through sort of coaching type relationships, but they can really start to examine what are some of their fundamental beliefs and values, which ultimately govern how they show up. Because they will show up more like that when we're under pressure, because I think we resort to type and, you know, then and habits. 

Paul Kelway  12:46

So were there any frameworks or systems that we use to help people to build that awareness of their behaviors and to grow and develop the ways that they interact? I think it's useful when we go to skill set for leaders to look specifically at what skills and behaviours do they have, and, you know, a really useful framework, which I use, and we use here at Oil Spill Response is the framework by the leadership circle, who acknowledge some of the reactivity that we all have, as human beings, you know, it's just a function of being human, you know, we will have the ability to sort of go into the basement, which is a term that I like from another book called 'You're it', if any listeners have come across that. So that's a great book by Leonard Marcus, Eric McNulty, Joseph Henderson and Barry Doran, I think, called You're it it's all about crisis leadership, and effectively, their term for becoming emotionally hijacked or triggered, is going into the basement ultimately. And you know, I think as leaders, we all have the potential to do that leadership circle, call it reactive tendencies. So they acknowledge those emotional responses as well. But ultimately, the behaviors that I think we want to see if we can train as crisis leaders are both relational and task focused behaviors, because in my experience, we need both to navigate any incident or crisis. So we need relating  behaviors. We need self awareness behaviors, we need authenticity behaviors, we need Systems Thinking behaviors, and we need achievement behaviors, ultimately, so we can learn those things. Or we can do some sort of quality thinking about how we do those things to achieve better when there's when we're under pressure. And then the last thing mindset, you know, here I draw heavily, as many people do on the work of Carol Dweck, about growth mindset. And actually, how do we ultimately cultivate in ourselves and in the teams that we have the privilege to lead more of a growth mindset as opposed to a fixed mindset? So growth mindset, you know, as I know, you're aware, Paul, one, that failure is an opportunity to learn and grow. It doesn't define me, in a sense that we open up a whole area of how do we fail fast, how do we learn quick, how do we move on all of that mindset, the potential there as opposed to failure defines me, you know, failure is my limit. And therefore, it invokes more closed mindset as a leader as well. So I think structure skill set mindset is useful both through an external lens of what's around me as a leader but also from an internal what's within me that I can ultimately cultivate.  That's great. And it's interesting, you talk about operating system, which obviously is, as you said, is a very sort of computer technology term. But actually, in a way, what you're talking about is the very human quality of being a leader, which is essentially having to build in these elements structure, skill set mindset. And really, I suppose develop and take that journey as someone who is developing, maturing, expanding your viewpoint on the world and your role in it. And I guess, ultimately, so that if you're in those circumstances, which are quite groundless, that you have the ability to stay centered, and you've done that work beforehand, so you're not having to do that work in the middle of a crisis, you can be more present and be more familiar, I suppose, with the feelings that it's going to evoke in a high pressure situation.  Absolutely. And I think it's important that I know that no stage of development is bad, no operating system is bad, but it can be limiting. Ultimately, just like, you know, if we cast our minds back to the very first smartphone, we all add, you look at what we could do on that device with the operating system it had back then, versus what we can do on our common devices with the operating system that it has now. It's radically different. You know, we can do more, we can process more from a technology perspective. So I think about our own, you know, operating systems as human beings as similar to that. I mean, you know, as I alluded at the start, you know, I'm on my own journey. I know you are, Paul, you know, I hope hopefully, leader is ultimately I think the danger for any leader is when they think they're done. You know, I have worked with leaders in the past, you know, very senior leaders who viewed development as something that's for everyone else. I think that's a really dangerous perspective to take. But of course, the minute that you think you're done learning and development as a leader, you shut down curiosity. And then you become subject, potentially, to sort of some close thinking, which can both limit you and others.  And if you're looking at an emergency team, there is generally a very clear incident command, or emergency management structure. So often, there is literally an incident commander. So when we think about leader or leadership, we think about the person at the top of that tree, so to speak. But just to clarify, when we think about leadership in relation to emergency teams, how does that differ? Are we talking about sort of specific roles within that structure? are we really talking about everybody's responsibility in that team to really show up as a leader and I guess, potentially, as a good follower, to optimize the way that team as a whole performs? 

Dean Wasche  17:56

Yeah, so I think everybody that has responsibility in an organisational chart for at least one other person, I think should very much see themselves as a leader. So you know, in Incident Management terms, you know, I'm thinking yes, not only about the incident commander, of course, most about section chiefs, branch directors, duty managers, incident managers, whatever terminology the organization uses to define people in roles that are responsible for others. Anybody can be a leader, I think leadership is largely a mindset. And, you know, I often go back to the quote of David Sterling, who was the founder of the British SAS, you know, back during the Second World War, you know, he talked about best leaders don't require rank, but those that require rank, don't deserve it type thing, you know, the whole essence that actually, anyone can be a leader. And you don't need to wear an epaulette on your shoulder or badge on your chest or coloured tabard to be a leader, you can still exhibit the qualities of a leader. But equally, I mean, you mentioned the followship is equally as important. You know, we can't have a system where everybody wants to be a leader, because everybody is potentially climb over each other to be in charge, so to speak, I think it's important to recognise, but not be constrained by any organisational structure that we're working in. But also, everybody should be thinking one up sort of thing. What does my leader need from me? How can I support that as a good follower? Because then what that allows is, of course, we're anticipating and one of the things I think most militaries do, well, certainly most NATO alliances and certainly the British Army always teaches, you know, one up, you know, so what happens if your boss isn't available? You know, who can step into that role, but of course, on the battlefield, it often happens, you know, a leader is injured, maybe killed, a follower, you know, in military parlance, a subordinate has to then step up and take over. There are many stories of extreme valour where exactly that has happened. You know, a key leader has been killed. or seriously injured, but the mission has gone on and as often succeeded because subordinates followers can step up and still achieve their mission. And I think that's important in a crisis or incident that you have the ability to step up, for example, some of the key leadership role is taken out for some reason and yeah, maybe they suffer personal crisis. Yeah, maybe a prolonged incident, you know, they are away other people can step up. 

Paul Kelway  20:26

The other way that we've talked about a little bit, which I'd love to go into more is the environment in which we're leading the unique environment, which we're leading in, in a crisis, which you've alluded to already. But what do we need to know about the context of this type of situation as you defined it? And, and how does that influence the role or, or perhaps the challenges of leading in that kind of space, that kind of environment. 

Dean Wasche  20:50

So I think So I think context is incredibly important, actually, I've only come to appreciate just how important it is probably in the last five years or so, prior to that I was of the view that actually you, you can pretty much use the same playbook, you know, the same kind of behaviours in any situation. And what I've come to learn about is sort of this whole area of complexity theory, really. And there's a framework that I think is really useful here. And it's a sense making framework by a gentleman called Dave Snowden. It's called the Cynefin framework. And what Dave Snowden has done is he's basically sought to define different systems at work. So ordered systems and disordered systems. And I recognized early in my career, where I sometimes fell short, is I've failed to appreciate what system I was working in. So I'll give you I'll give you some examples. So in his work with the collective brain work Dave Snowden has, has identified five domains, essentially, the first is a disordered domain, a disordered system. So in this system, you actually don't know what domain you're in because you're disordered. So the predominant state is one of confusion, ultimately, and it's an unhappy place to be. So here, when you're in a disordered state, I would say the leaders role in a disordered system is to create the conditions so that people can work it out and bring some order to the situation. Ultimately, if I think back on my military career, if you were, for example, in a situation where, let's say an improvised explosive device had just gone off, one of the first things the incident commander, you know, which will be a tactical commander, typically on the ground does is instate, a cordon, some kind of perimeter around the device. And of course, what I now recognize is that first way, as an individual on the ground, in a disordered, maybe even chaotic state, you can impose some order on that situation, just by simply using physical space, you know, for example 100 200 meter cordon and around if a known device was suspect device, you know, and you start to control access in and out through that cordon. And then yeah, this is a very simple way of how we can take an influence a disordered system, and start to, introduce some order, just recognising when you're in a disordered state. And actually knowing as a leader, that actually one of the first things you need to do is try and create some order, I think it's a useful starting point, because a disordered state can become very overwhelming to anyone. 

Paul Kelway  23:34

That's a great example. And I'm also thinking about within the context of oil spill response and wildfire response and many other emergency elements that within the Incident Management System or the Incident Command System, they, they often have that process, often referred to as the planning p, but just that idea that in the structure, no matter what the crisis or emergency is, there's a structure and a process that you continue to follow, irrespective of the scale and the size. And clearly, that's a similar approach in the sense that you're trying to at least bring some kind of order some routine, to the business of dealing with something that's actually quite chaotic and challenging. 



Dean Wasche  24:14

Definitely. This is, I think, where you have principles, guidelines, checklists, to an extent as long as they aren't too prescriptive, necessarily, all really help us because they help us make sense and start to put in place constraints that will help us ultimately to create some order out of what is disorder. Absolutely. So we then move into one of the order domains, which is say the simple or the obvious domain. Okay, so, generally, senior crisis leaders probably won't spend much time in this domain because people lower down in the organization will work at this level. But in the obvious domain, essentially, everyone can see the relationship between cause and effect it stuff that's clear to most if not all people. So therefore at every level, the leaders sort of key focus should be on sensing what's happened, categorizing it, and then responding accordingly, ultimately this will go off to be done by leaders lower in any organization. Yeah, this kind of stuff I don't think will bubble up to the level of the incident commander, very much, you know, and it's the best practice, ultimately, you know, things are anticipated, their probability is almost assured, we know what we need to do. So, in the world of incident or crisis management, for me, an example of this is a routine search and rescue operation. Okay, so, you know, something like a mountain rescue in the Lake District, you know, here in the UK, for example, yeah, there will be search and rescue teams all around the Lake District that are practised and drilled in various situations. And if something comes in, which meets those guidelines, we know what to do, you know, it's been drilled, practised, rehearse time, and time and time again, it's sufficiently evolved, it works consistently, you know, what you're doing. So it's very much for me, the realm of standard operating procedures, and every incident or crisis will have them, which is why I like the Cynefin framework so much, because I think you can find all five domains in pretty much any crisis, I think. So the next domain within the order part is complicated. So this is where cause and effect aren't obvious to all but experts. So I put most technical aspects of a crisis probably fall in here, certainly. And what oil spill response so, you know, so how skimmers work, how beams work, how dispersants work. It's not beyond the realm of anyone, but it does take some technical expertise to grapple with it. You know, a layperson just wouldn't pick it up and run with it. So here the leader's role is around sensing, analyzing, and then responding, okay, so you can't categorize because it's not so clear cut, but you can analyze, and it's the realm of good practice. Okay, so it's not best practice, but it's good practice. And our governing constraints, certainly at oil spill response, largely, in this domain, listening to some of the interviews that were done in the wake of the Macondo Deepwater Horizon incident, you know, how I think you listen to Admiral Thad Allen speak, and some of the other senior crisis leaders, what I deduce from listening to those interviews is that they will probably put the technical aspects of capping the well, into the complicated domain, of which most of if not all of the expertise resided with BP to do that they had the technical expertise, you know, incredibly complicated stuff that they were trying to do, you know, to cap a well, what, 3000 meters below the ocean surface, you know, they had the expertise to do that. And I think, if I'm making sense of it correctly, that probably Admiral Thad Allen and his senior leadership team would put those tech aspects of that incident in the complicated domain. But when it came to liaising with stakeholders, you know, at the federal level, state level, local government level, other interested parties, he would put that firmly in the complex domain, which I'll come to shortly. 

Paul Kelway  28:23

Okay, just to clarify that, I mean, basically, it's that in a way that decision making is just more nuanced. There's more information, there's more variability, or there's more permutations of the causes and effect that are having to be analysed. So you're sort of taking that expertise, and you're bringing in that ability to synthesize and analyze and and essentially make decisions based on a sort of very nuanced situation. 

Dean Wasche  28:47

Yes. So key for senior crisis leaders, I think the complicated space is that they are unlikely to be an expert. So they will need to call upon experts to ultimately solve the problem, which is solvable. 

Paul Kelway  29:03

Got it. And ultimately, the complicated element is that you might need a whole variety of experts chipping in a particular element of that challenge. And then your job is then obviously to try to synthesize what you're hearing and sort of make a decision accordingly. 

Dean Wasche  29:17

Yeah, because of course, those experts are unlikely to agree on everything. So there'll be conflicting opinions there. But yes, absolutely, to synthesize the output of all of that. So one to make sure you bring the right people together to create the right conditions for them to collaborate effectively. And then three, you can then synthesize the output of that into something that you can operationalize in a coherent way. 

Paul Kelway  29:38

Okay, brilliant. Got it. Right. So that's complicated. So yeah, so then moving on to complex. Yeah, so complex. And this is where the real fun starts. There's no linear relationship between cause and effect. So the best experts could do is hypothesize. And this is why I think it's really important for crisis leaders to recognize when they're in the complex and when they're in the complicated because the danger is here are one of the many dangers is that in the complex domain, the best experts could do is hypothesize. Whereas in the complicated, they can predict with quite a high degree of reliability. But if you don't recognize which space you're in as a leader, and an expert hypothesizes, but you think it's a prediction, and it's wrong, you lose faith in all your experts, ultimately, which can then trigger you. So then we go into the basement, we get some those redhead behavior. So this way, you can see it all starts to overlay on each other at this point. And then we get a very different crisis response, ultimately, so the best we can do, as leaders in complex is probe sense, and then respond. And often, you know, it's managing polarities, there are no obvious right or wrongs. Here, you're in an adaptive system, you know, things are changing, as I say, there's no clear linear relationship between cause and effect. So this is the domain of what Snowden and his team called enabling constraints or principles, how do we establish governing principles? And then move forward on those? Yeah, it's also the realm of emergent practice as well, you know, so if we're in a complex space, there is no easy clear answer. So it's how do we continually probe for information sense, and then respond to what we get?  Obviously, you've alluded to an example there of a complex when you talked about the stakeholder engagement. Following the Deepwater Horizon, I am also recalling the conversation I had on the first podcast episode with Dave Rouse and Dr. El. Parker, she talked about the example of preparedness for a pandemic, and how a lot of the preparedness focused on as well influenza type situation and needed, drilled and practice the sort of hospital emergency services element. But obviously, in relation to COVID 19 pandemic, the implications on home learning schools being closed, and all those other connected cause and effects elements, which ultimately were perhaps less considered, because they were more complex, and their focus was a bit too heavy on the on the complicated side, is that a good example? 

Dean Wasche  32:14

I think it is. Yeah, I think it is a good example. And of course, it's one that I'm sure listeners can relate to the COVID 19 pandemic, is a great example of complexity in action. You know, we've got volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity all wrapped up. And of course, what governments having to do the world over, is balance off public health, and trying to keep as many if not all of their populations alive as possible, whilst also keeping their economies open, because people die from poverty. And it's a wicked problem. Because what's interesting now is, I think the world reflects on our response, because because every nation state did it quite differently, really, we've got a whole spectrum of different responses, we can hopefully, all reflect on that and look at our national preparedness to a potential future pandemic, you know, and again, I think there's examples out there, obviously, without naming any countries specifically. So I don't feel I'm qualified to but to my mind is a lay person when it comes to fighting to dealing with pandemics, there are countries whose leadership, I think very overtly sought to simplify the issue and put it very much in the, in the simple domain, the obvious domain, there's countries that went the other way, dealt with it as a complicated issue and were too fixed by that as well. I don't think there was any country that got it perfect, because every government, irrespective of your politics, was trying to work through what's inherently an incredibly complex situation. 

Paul Kelway  33:53

Absolutely. If we're in a situation in general, that is we rightly deemed to be complex, do you have the ability as a leader in that situation to attempt to move it into a different domain? Or is it more about accepting that it's complex, and adjusting what's possible or how you act and make decisions accordingly? 

Dean Wasche  34:16

I think you've sub acknowledged that it's complex. But then for me, that sets you up differently as a leader. So if you can acknowledge that it's complex, you can then actually accept that there is no perfect solution here, there is no right or wrong by virtue of being a complex domain. You can also bring in experts, as you will undoubtedly have to do and actually as most, if not all governments did during the pandemic. Lots of governments followed the science, which I think is all you can do, but I think it's important to acknowledge as a crisis leader that they're just hypotheses that's all they can be because it's uncharted territory ultimately. You're balancing off things, you know, the cost of closing in the economy or severely limiting an economy or closing schools. And the social consequence of that has versus people becoming seriously ill or dying is that there's no perfect solution. So you're managing the tension between polarities, ultimately. So I think, as a crisis leader just acknowledging that can actually bring some relief, but it also helps you work with and collaborate with people in a different way.

Paul Kelway  35:25

It reminds me of a quote that Dave Rouse offered when he talked about the role in a crisis of a leader having to essentially make precision guesswork based on questionable information. And, you know, I think is you say, it's the sense of somehow recognizing that. And I guess, perhaps that recognition, allowing you to sort of avoid some sort of analysis, paralysis, recognize that ultimately, you've got to take that next step with whatever information you have. And you've got to be confident enough to recognize that there is no right answer, but you have to essentially sort of take what you know, and what you've experienced as a leader, and then, you know, make that difference in in actually being willing and courageous enough, I guess, to make that decision or that next step.

Dean Wasche  36:09

Yeah, absolutely. And I think, you know, and this brings us right back to when you asked me the start, you know, what's my definition of leadership? I think, certainly, within that, it's about how do you create full momentum and keep moving forward and keep, you know, unifying people to keep moving forward, ultimately, you know, and I go back to Winston Churchill, quote, you know, so that in any moment of indecision, there's three things A leader can do, the best thing they can do is make the right decision. Of course, you know, we all like to be right all the time, the next best thing they can do is make the wrong decision. The worst thing any leader can do is make no decision at all. So I think it's really important. Yeah, as leaders, we keep moving forward, acknowledging, particularly when we're in the complex and complicated domains that we're not always going to get it right, particularly when we're in the complex domain. 

Paul Kelway  36:58

So building on that, because you also talked about the importance of failure, failing fast the principle of sort of iterating and learning, and growing through that, that makes a lot of sense, something I try to practice as well, obviously, in a crisis, that failure has much more serious implications, you know, it literally could be sort of life and death situations. So how does a leader find that balance in a complex crisis where to a certain extent there is going to be this sense of, we're not going to get it right. Or we're going to have to iterate on the decisions that we made. But how do we find that balance between almost giving ourselves permission to say there is benefit and failure, but ultimately, here, we've also got to make the best decisions we can, because the risk of failure in the situation is is much more consequential.

Dean Wasche  37:47

Yeah, so I think use experts accept that the best I can do is hypothesize. Use your team to make the best decision that is available to you in the moment. But then, I think actually, as a leader, demonstrate some infallibility some vulnerability and and acknowledge to the stakeholders that this is the best we've got with the information that we have right now. And actually, we will continue to evolve that. And one thing that concerns me, you know, slightly, in the modern era that we're currently living is actually, you know, leaders, in an effort to come across as you know, strong and dominant, they oversimplify often. And I think it almost always does, you know, the people that are following them, whether they're a political leader, or another leader almost does their followers a disservice, in that they almost assume that we can't handle a level of complexity ourselves. And actually, I think, where, particularly those senior leaders can be vulnerable say, look, this is what we know, this is what we don't know, this is what our intuition says, this is where our values take us. And therefore, this is what we're going to do. Acknowledging that, we're going to have to test and adjust potentially, you know, keep evolving I think that goes a long way. 

Paul Kelway  38:58

So essentially, that role of a leader is to understand the context that we're having to act within, and to deploy ourselves in the best way in relation to the particular demands of that situation. And what it's calling on from us as an individual and as a as a team.

Dean Wasche  39:20

Absolutely. And I'd like to come back to so I think we need to bring this back to behaviors ultimately, and I'm a big fan of the work that the the leadership circle group has done here, about those five creative competencies, because, as I said at the start with my definition of leadership, I think the competencies are largely the same. I think what the differentiator is, in a crisis, the pressure is amplified significantly. So I think what we can all be doing now as potential incident or crisis leaders of the future, is exploring our inner operating systems. So by that I mean, you know, exploring reflecting on our own values, belief systems, what our attitudes are, how we perceive ourselves in the world. And in my experience, most people can't do that on their own, they need some kind of setting, whether it's a coaching framework, some kind of spiritual meditation to work through, but that people need often a vehicle to do that kind of deep, deep reflection, but it's I think well worth doing. Because then you will start to see as a leader, what your own potential limiting beliefs are, what are we subject to? And how can we make that object of our own attention and focus. But those five competencies, I'm just gonna say them again, with a bit more detail. This one, I mentioned them at the start of our conversation, also, one is relating. So this is all about the ability of the leader to connect with others in a way that brings out the best in them, you know, and when I work with groups of people in various contexts, and I asked people to think about and then describe, to meet their ideal leader, that ability to relate to them in a way that brings out the best to them is always in the mix. So relating we know is really important. Self awareness, you know, the importance of emotional intelligence, or EQ, is fundamental. Authenticity, so this is a large part about integrity, but the leadership circle group, and indeed others have broadened this definition. So when we talk about authenticity, I don't just mean integrity, I also mean, alignment with values and sort of energetic wholeness, I think as human beings, if we're more aligned with our values, and acting in accordance with our values, it just has the effect of generating more energy in us, ultimately, I don't quite profess to understand exactly how that works. But it just seems to be that way that and I think this is where, you know, as as an incident leader, crisis leader, if you can galvanize people around a common purpose, which is often easy. If there's lives at risk, you know, the common purpose very quickly becomes how do we save these people? It's almost doesn't need to be spoken. Amazing stuff happens, creativity emerges. So I think authenticity is really important. How does a leader align is not only honest and trustworthy in their character, but how do they just align with people's values and enable that.  Systems awareness. So big picture thinking, I think red to blue is really helpful. So again, going back to Andy's podcast, you have the ability of a leader to stay more blue, and therefore be able to access some of their higher level cognitive functions that allow them to really use their intellect, and that of others, rather than going to red or in the basement, because of course, that stuff shuts down when we're emotionally hijacked, even to a small degree, we just can't access some of our high level thinking. It's just not available to us in the moment, you know, and I'm sure we can all relate to that. I certainly can if I become in any way emotionally hijacked. Stuff is no longer available to me. And it becomes available to me after the moment when I think, Oh, why didn't I say that? Why didn't I respond in this way? Well just because I reacted in another way. You know, I went too red for the situation. That's not to say, as I know, Andy explained in his podcast, you know, red isn't bad, we need emotion. We can't be devoid of emotion, that if we have too much red, if we become triggered by something, which is very easy to do, when the pressure is on you, when expectations, scrutiny and consequences weighing down on us, it's very easy to become triggered. So systems awareness is key and maintaining more of a blue head will help that. Then the last one, of course, is achieving results. You know, most definitions of leadership that I come across, speak very clearly about the relational skills of a leader, and the ability to get stuff done. So I think this is key. And of course, in a crisis or incident, we need leaders that get stuff done. So the ability to offer a compelling vision, and cultivate a deep sense of purpose, which ultimately inspires people to go above and beyond, you know, all the best leaders I've worked for, both in the military and civilian sectors have had that ability to inspire you inspire me to go above and beyond.

Paul Kelway  44:12

We've talked a bit about the development of a leader through the techniques and the practices. And so I suppose it's it's always the question that's there, which is sort of are big leaders born or made a guess from, from your perspective, would you say it's a bit of both?  Yeah, I'd say some are born, but I think most are made. And by what I mean by some are born is I think, some develop the attributes, I think, and again, I'm going to come back to those five creative competencies, you know, so some leaders just have developed high EQ by the time they get to a leadership role. You know, they're aligned with their values that in accordance with their values, they have integrity, they are honest people, you know, they have that ability to take the bigger picture and they can, they can get stuff done ultimately. So some leaders I think, just develop that stuff. But I think absolutely leaders can be made indeed, yeah, the whole ethos around military leadership training is selecting individuals through a rigorous selection process with the key core attributes. And generally, it's about character traits. And then training the behaviors training the mindset ultimately again, that's what I had the privilege to do it between 2009 and 2011, at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, which is the British Army's Leadership Academy, so I can absolutely testify to great leaders can absolutely be made, but I think some are born as well, and you know some are just right for the time. You know, I know there's been lots of historical role models, who will actually would they be a good leader now? Well, possibly not because they were a product of their time. They were the right person for that time in in a nation's history, they wouldn't necessarily be the right leader.

Dean Wasche  45:51


Paul Kelway  45:51

is there any other sort of, I suppose tools or techniques or practices that we as individuals can employ that, that allow us to develop our ability to sort of unfreeze ourselves in those situations and to act accordingly.

Dean Wasche  46:06

So there's a very practical one, actually, that I've taken from Dr. Sabrina Cohen Hatton. And if you haven't come across Sabrina, Dr. Sabrina Cohen Hatton is the Chief Fire Officer, I think of West Sussex, and she's written several good books. And one in one of those books, she talks all about decision tools and decision traps that we can all fall into, particularly when we're under pressure. And one point that she makes, which I think is, is really true, in my experience, is that we often assess a situation based on how we have already decided to act. So that's been a pretty conscious process, and often it will be at least part unconscious. But we have already assessed the situation based on how we've decided to act. Okay, so that then starts to build in bias, cognitive bias, and the like, decision inertia pains which we spoke of while ago, Paul. So what Sabrina has done, I think, with the other senior leaders in the fire service that they've introduced these decision controls, which you apply after a decision is made. But before you implement it at that key space between the two. And so after it's made, but before you implement, so there's three simple questions, you ask yourself, or you ask each other. First one is, What's my goal? And will this action get me closer to it? The second is, what do I expect to happen if we do this. And then the third one is how does the benefit of doing what we've agreed outweigh the risk of doing it? Okay, so what I think this does actually is it slows us down in in that critical moment, where particularly if we're in the disordered or chaotic spaces, there's an impulsion to act, it just gets us to think actually, is our situational awareness, where it needs to be to make the best decision in this moment. So I think those decision controls can be very useful. 

Paul Kelway  46:22

One of the things that we covered off in the last podcast episode with our colleague, Liam Harrington Missen was the evolving role of artificial intelligence. And in particular, in relation to crisis management, emergency response, you know, we talked about these sort of large language learning models and various other things. But Liam was giving some examples of to what extent certain decisions or actions in an emergency response could actually be left to artificial intelligence to solve and the benefits of that, and the question, I guess, ethically, philosophically would humans allow, or leave those decisions to AI? What I'm wondering, because I think a lot of what you've said obviously speaks to the human quality that we bring as leaders that we essentially embody all of these things that have brought us to that place or the learning or the experience, we'll work on ourselves. Would you say that in a way, it really is that human element that makes the difference in a complex situation that ultimately, AI is very good at maybe giving us more analysis in these complicated environments, but perhaps, that role of of leadership, that sort of role of this sort of human dimension, as it were, is really kind of a key or critical aspect of that complexity and in dealing with highly complex situations. 

Dean Wasche  49:01

Yeah, I mean, I'm curious about what opportunity exists with AI ultimately, where I am today, which of course may be different tomorrow and the next day, but where I am today, is I think I can absolutely see a role for artificial intelligence in clearing the way out of the obvious in the complicated. I do think that complexity requires a human touch ultimately. But it's interesting. I mean, it's yeah, really sure. But I think that there's great potential there. I mean, that actually, AI can clear a lot of the noise initially, you know, can just execute commands to make stuff happen very quickly. So I guess, you know, we come back to right what's the leader trying to do? So they're trying to take in information, orientate themselves and make sense of it, make decisions and then compel people to act on those decisions. Ultimately, that's, I guess, the fundamentals of crisis leadership. So I think AI can really help leaders to observe and orientate and do some decision making for them. But of course, you know, I'm learning like everyone is all the time about AI. I'm struggling right now to see the  role of AI in complexity. I don't think there's bound to be sold in complexity, because it's adaptive. I think, ultimately, that needs more human.

Paul Kelway  50:49

As you say, it's an interesting question. And as you say, it's maybe an evolving one. But certainly, that's one of the takeaways listening to everything that you've shared, for me is that there is something that sort of hard to put your finger on that that an individual brings to a situation, in terms of, as you say, though, everything from their values to their experience, to the way they've trained, that ultimately can be extremely unique, and as you say, could be just the right, fit for the right kind of situation or the right challenge.

Dean Wasche  51:17

Yeah. Because I think, in the complex space, what you then need to pick up is those the nuances of human behavior, it's the nonverbal expressions, which I mean, maybe AI will be able to do one day, I simply don't know. But I think it relies more on that adaptive system, that is a complex domain, I think relies more one, human connection. Again, I think the kind of leadership we need, ultimately, in complexity. Some authors have called it the integral leadership, the ability to really exercise those creative competencies. You know, the authors I spoke of before who wrote that great book that I'd recommend, called Your It, they talked about meta leadership, which for me is very similar. Your other authors call it network leadership. I think ultimately, what they all have in common, is the ability to bring people together to get stuff done under extreme pressure, not all of them, to my view, speak about the importance of creating connections, seeing the whole system, which I struggle right now to see how AI can do by taking the nuances, but we'll see how it evolves. 

Paul Kelway  52:32

Is there any sort of public figures that you look to admire or even just you think is a great example of somebody acting? Well as a leader in a crisis situation?

Dean Wasche  52:41

Yeah. So actually, I know I mentioned this because I watched the Netflix documentary on it relatively recently, but do remember, Paul the 2018 Thai cave rescue of that boys football team. So I think this is a great, so now, I can't pin this on any one leader. But just having watched that, and having followed it, as I'm sure many people did avidly in the news at the time, you know, for me, that was an incident, boys going deep into an underground cave system that turned of course, into a crisis when it flooded. Great example, to illustrate the distinction, I think, between the two and how an incident can evolve into a crisis. But for me, that was an excellent example of how leaders came together. Subject matter experts came together from around the globe collaborated, presumably under a unified command. They didn't speak a lot in this documentary, but I'm sure there was some kind of unified command there, and ultimately navigated the complicated space, which, you know, I'm delighted to say led to a wholly positive outcome, all of those boys, who have actually sadly, I believe, one Thai Navy Seal, lost his life. But all of the boys were rescued, which was an amazing outcome. I think that is, I think, a really good example of how the amazing can happen when people come together.

Paul Kelway  54:00

It's interesting, you mentioned that I think when we were talking I, for some reason, that one came into my mind as well. But it is interesting, as you say, even the sense that actually some of the decisions or the approaches that they ended up taking obviously had a certain element of risk to them. And ultimately, they had to at least assess that and then have the courage to say, you know, this is actually the sort of the best choice we have in a very difficult situation. And it makes me think back to three questions to ask yourself, this situation from the fire service, but I think that sort of highlights in that sense that ultimately, you know, you have to make a decision and you're trying to bring in the right skill sets and the right experience to then be able to sort of say, well, in our judgment, this is I think, how we can affect this most significantly. 

Dean Wasche  54:43

Yeah, and for me, yeah, the element of risk in that particular verse was, you know, the decision to sedate the boys to bring them out to me. I think it is complicated, but verging on complex, amazing. 

Paul Kelway  54:55

Is there anything else then you want to share? I mean, is there anything else that comes up for you that you just feel I suppose just a reflection or a takeaway that we haven't covered that you think would be worth sharing all this coming up for you.

Dean Wasche  55:08

I think leadership is tough. You know, leadership, at any time is tough. But I think particularly in incident and crisis is particularly tough. So actually, we shouldn't expect to be good at it. If we don't invest the time to develop ourselves, I think what seems to be often true, is that we thrust people into leadership roles, because of their tap expertise. And if they do flounder in an instant, or crises when they're under massive pressure, you know, expectations, scrutiny, consequences all in play, we shouldn't wonder if we have developed them at all. And they haven't developed themselves, because it's incumbent upon them as individuals to build themselves as well, we shouldn't wonder if they do fall slightly. Sure. So I think, as part of our preparedness efforts, it's really key that leaders develop themselves. And also organizations take the time to develop their leaders, because then they're more likely to be able to perform when they are under pressure, ultimately. And again, as I said, at the very start, I think it's constantly a we're never done developing as leaders. And again, the best leaders I've worked for see themselves very much as an ongoing project, they are constantly curious, they're constantly open to how do they get better? As individuals, the example I always give is, I often, you know, get asked to support leaders from a coaching perspective, you know, who just don't listen very well, they don't collaborate very well, no, typically, these individuals are often very smart people. Now, you can send them on all the active listening courses you like, you know, your company could spend 1000s of pounds sending these leaders away on you know, how to be a good active listener. And they will learn all the skills there are about you know, how to listen, with senses that aren't just you ears how to pick up nonverbal cues, how to respond empathically. But fundamentally, if they come away from that skills base course, still believing that they are smart enough to solve most of the problems that they encounter. They're never going to listen actively, because they already go into a conversation, thinking they've got at least half of the right answer. So you've got to do the inner work as well, you know, skills based leadership development alone. I don't think it's enough anymore. We need to do the inner work as well as the outer work.

Paul Kelway  57:37

Thank you for listening to The Response Force Multiplier from OSRL. Please like and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. And stay tuned for more episodes as we continue to explore key issues in emergency response and crisis management. For more information head to See you soon.