What a Difference a Disaster Makes: The Role of Vicarious Leadership Learning in Differential Responses to Post-Katrina Hurricanes
August 2005 and the ensuing months saw a natural disaster, Hurricane Katrina, and a leadership disaster surrounding governmental and institutional response to the storm’s aftermath. An event of such monumental proportions would predictably offer numerous challenges; however, the extent of the weaknesses in preparedness and response revealed by Katrina was nothing short of astounding. Lessons learned from this experience were quickly incorporated into many organizations’ planning, readiness, and response activities. This manuscript discusses salient aspects of less-than-optimal responses to Katrina’s effects and explores changes in and different programs for coordinating subsequent disaster response. Interestingly, many such changes were undertaken by units not directly impacted by or involved in Katrina’s aftermath. The authors propose the term “vicarious leadership learning” to describe this phenomenon. Examples from a variety of organizations are presented, and the benefits of vicarious leadership learning are discussed.
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