Crisis Leadership Lessons from “Blue Bloods”

I’ve become a big fan of the tv series, Blue Bloods.  Starring Tom Selleck as Frank Regan, a fictional New York City Police Commissioner, the beautifully written and acted show chronicles the intersecting public and private lives of the widowed commissioner’s close-knit Irish-Catholic family, who are all in the “family business” of law enforcement (retired cop, streetwise detective, sharp assistant district attorney, and idealistic rookie cop).  It struck me while watching the dramatic season finale last week that the episode offered some excellent lessons in crisis leadership.

Tom Selleck portrays fictional NYC Police Commissioner who leads his department -- and his family -- through a series of crises


The commissioner’s youngest son (the rookie cop) privately pursues leads  regarding his older brother’s murder, which occurred two years earlier in the line of duty.  Finally getting in over his head, he shares the information with his father and brother (detective).  The commissioner sets up a top-secret command post in his own home, staffed by those closest to him, and they eventually discover proof that the son was murdered by a group of rogue cops.  As the rogue cops catch wind of the investigation and are preparing to flee the country with their considerable ill-gotten booty, the commissioner and team swoops in and dramatically captures the group en masse — with the ring leader ultimately choosing suicide over capture.  The resolution finally provides the family with closure about the reason’s behind their older brother’s death.

Crisis Leadership Lessons

  • Trust the voice of “innocents” trying to tell you the truth
    The commissioner trusts his naive but perceptive son (the rookie cop) when he brings him hard truths about his beloved department, when an easier reaction might have been disbelief (“nothing like that could really happen here”).
  • When the chips are down, rely on a close group of advisors
    Understanding the threat, Regan gathered his inner circle and trusted them implicitly (with access granted by credibility, not necessarily position)
  • Do your homework, get the facts, then decide and act decisively
    Once the threat was known, the commissioner moved swiftly but methodically, directing his team in gathering enough evidence to act on — and then didn’t delay in acting (even though “perfect” information wasn’t yet available)
  • Some things can’t be delegated; there’s no substitute for the leader’s presence in the heat of the moment
    Once he gave his team their charge, Regan stayed in the loop and carried out a key piece that only he could do.  Then, when the moment of truth was at hand, he was at the center of his team in the decisive action, and there was no doubt of his engagement or command.
  • The greatest power is in restraint
    When the outcome had essentially been decided and the threat vanquished, the commissioner didn’t overplay his hand or seek to destroy his opponents, but rather dealt with them firmly but fairly

We can draw leadership lessons from many different crisis events and learn from leaders in many walks of life and with many different styles.  What crisis leadership techniques have you observed to be effective?

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