Decisiveness and clarity of thought in a crisis are often the difference between success and failure. Michael Bloomberg learned this lesson the hard way.
The Big Apple's chief executive showed early flashes of strong leadership in response to the storm but will be remembered for not canceling the New York City Marathon when he should have -- instead caving to massive criticism.
Shortly after Sandy wreaked havoc on his city, Bloomberg looked to be in control, even telling the Commander-in-Chief to steer clear of the area, fearing his presence would pose too many logistical issues and steal precious resources away from emergency efforts.
The mayor was widely lauded for his position.
But then he took nearly the opposite position as it pertained to the marathon and soon whatever points he scored for his early response were squandered -- going from strong to weak, decisive to unsure.
I tell my crisis clients: Nobody has ever been through what you are going through now; every situation is different, in spite of certain similarities. In other words: We need to deal with the uniqueness of the crisis we face, rather than attempting to mimic someone else's response to theirs.
It is clear that the mayor went to his predecessor's playbook, using Rudy Giuliani's response to September 11 to frame some of his messaging around Hurricane Sandy.
In explaining his original decision that the marathon must go on, Bloomberg said New York "has to show that we are here and we are going to recover."
Just who does he want to show this to?
Hurricanes might have human names but they're not people -- you can't show them anything. Returning to a "sense of normalcy" after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 was important for many reasons, the biggest being the message it sent to Al Qaeda.
Sandy isn't bin Laden. Next year's tropical storms and hurricanes are not taking note of the mayor's message while hiding in caves.
Bloomberg went on to say, "You have to keep going and doing things" and even used the fact that the race went on after 9/11 to support his position, overlooking the fact that the race in 2001 was several months after the attacks, as opposed to several days after a hurricane that the city is still in the early stages of its recovery.
Again, what worked for one crisis doesn't necessarily apply to the next. It should go without saying that natural disasters pose much different challenges than human acts of terror.
The mayor both misread the situation and was indecisive.
When an executive fails to give clear instructions and flip-flops in decision-making, credibility is lost, making leading all the more difficult.
Canceling the marathon the day the storm hit was an easy call. The mayor could have asked race sponsors to donate all of their supplies: generators, bagels, water and tents -- perfect resources in responding to a disaster. I am certain that all would have obliged without hesitation, the same way they have now.
Unfortunately, it wasn't until the cries were so loud that the race was canceled, days after it should have been. Maria Luz Gille (38) traveled from Asuncion, Paraguay for what was to be her first marathon, her "dream" race, but instead ended up on Piers Morgan's show on CNN, explaining her frustration with the late decision from the Mayor.
Maria told me that she understood canceling the race, but that it was the timing that was wrong. She's absolutely right. The Paraguayan was "very hesitant" to make the long trip when she heard of the storm but she "trusted the authorities" when they said the race was on and made the journey to North America.
Leaders are judged, especially in times of adversity. Bloomberg was on his way to a strong performance but his indecisiveness and failure to read the situation will forever hurt him. Sure, it is just a race, but don't say that to Staten Island Borough residents who had to be more demonstrative than they wanted to be to get the race canceled -- and don't say it to Maria Luz Gille and hundreds of racers who traveled to the city unnecessarily.
Bloomberg might have upset a few people if he made a quick decision to cancel the race on Monday or Tuesday, but instead he upset everyone, racers and victims alike, and lost a lot of credibility in the process.