Imagine trying to herd cats. Even worse, try to herd cats in a crisis! In this episode of The Mentors Radio, Host Dan Hesse talks with former U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Thad Allen about leadership during a crisis. Whether it’s a business crisis, family crisis, natural disaster, supply chain nightmare, government-mandated pandemic shutdown or something else, ethical leadership can make all the difference in ultimately navigating to “safe shores.” Our guest mentor today, Thad Allen, has a lot to share about leadership and crisis leadership.
During his Coast Guard career, Allen was asked by two U.S. Presidents to take over leadership of the Federal response to two monumental crises—the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the catastrophic Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. To achieve resolution in each of these disasters required bringing together a wide swath of diverse constituencies—each with their own focus, concerns, habits of communication and pain points. No easy task. Allen was so successful in his efforts that he became known in some circles as “the master of disaster.”
Allen also led the Atlantic Coast Guard forces in response to the 9/11 attacks and coordinated the U.S. Coast Guard response to a major Haitian earthquake.
But what was Allen’s secret for bringing very diverse groups together, leading them to work together to achieve a common goal? How did he herd cats in a crisis? Among other things you’ll learn that one of the first things he does—every time, in every disaster with which he was involved—is to focus first on forging a unity of purpose and a culture of compassion. Yes. People First. Every Time! That required hyper-focused listening, clarity of assessment, finding the common threads and building on those, and… did we mention listening, putting people first?!!
The lessons and experiences Thad Allen shares in this episode are worth more than gold for any human on the planet—in business, work, life, anywhere, anytime… and for cats too, if they’d only listen. FANTASTIC LEARNING and MENTORING in this episode!
- Admiral Thad Allen retired in 2010 as the 23rd Commandant of the US Coast Guard, after four decades of service. He transitioned to apply his expertise, leadership and learnings to other opportunities, retiring as an executive vice president (2017) and senior executive advisor (2021) at Booz Allen Hamilton. He currently chairs or serves on several federal advisory committees, is a member of the Board of Visitors to the National Intelligence University, and a member of the Comptroller General’s Advisory Board. Admiral Allen led the federal responses to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. He led Atlantic Coast Guard forces in response to the 9/11 attacks and coordinated the Coast Guard response to the Haitian Earthquake. He is a 1971 graduate of the US Coast Guard Academy, holds master’s degrees from George Washington University and the MIT Sloan School and is the recipient of 5 Honorary Doctorate degrees. He held the James Tyler Distinguished Chair of Leadership at the Loy Institute of Leadership at the Coast Guard Academy from 2014 to 2021.
- “Looking Back at 225 and 100: A former Commandant reflects on the “inflection” points of his personal and professional life and the Service itself,“ by Admiral Thad Allen, USCG (ret), ’71, In the Service and Beyond
- “Recognizing and Responding to Today’s Governance Challenges,” by Thad W. Allen ’71, Admiral James M. Loy Institute for Leadership
- “Hurricane Katrina: How the Coast Guard Gets It Right,” TIME magazine, 10/31/05
- “Confronting Complexity and Creating Unity of Effort: The Leadership Challenge for Public Administrators,” by Thad W. Allen, Public Administration Review