Economic recovery differs from economic development due to the speed, urgency and focus necessary to respond to challenges during a chaotic and uncertain environment requiring a revised approach to leadership.


Communities expect their leaders to have a plan to solve the problems, but in an economic recovery environment, leaders can no longer:

  • rely on their expertise to develop solutions,
  • control the situation or environment based on existing policies, procedures and organizational structure,
  • provide an illusion of control in times of uncertainty where reality is changing by the hour,
  • expect perfection from yourself or your team as it inhibits taking action

You can control your actions and emotions, but you cannot control the situation.  As a leader, you will be required to make very difficult and painful decisions in response and recovery.  Communities are desperate for leadership that is adaptable to the recovery environment.   

As a leader during recovery, you need to demonstrate courage in uncertain times.  You must embrace change, take action, and be adaptable in an uncertain environment that changes on a regular basis. Embrace the uncertainty by:

  • Knowing you will not have all the information you want to take action, but you are still required to provide thoughtful and timely decisions on recovery strategy
  • Anticipating the unpredictive environment and adjust and readjust as necessary
  • Examining the situation and focus on the vulnerabilities the disaster has highlighted

You cannot mitigate the multitude of challenges you will face during recovery, but once you can accept that, you can more easily take action and provide the leadership the community craves during times of crisis and long term recovery.


Leaders need to model the behaviors needed for recovery for their community and stakeholders.  Lead by example returning to your adaptable, authentic, and transparent character through behaviors that are:

  • Responsive, not reactive
  • Authentic without sensationalizing or politicizing
  • Balanced with perspective of situational denial and calm in an environment of fear and anxiety
  • Grounded and present
  • Mission focused and committed

You will not know the answers and may not receive recognition for your efforts as the results may not be apparent for years. In fact, you may be ridiculed for your decision-making and strategies, but know these  are projections of fear that you must not let distract you or your team.  As an economic recovery leader, you must dig deep and be self-aware and compassionate with yourself and your colleagues during these difficult times.  In addition to self-awareness, you must be selfless and focus on the long-term recovery and not personal agendas. 

You must have a support system, both professionally and personal, where you can openly ask for advice, support, and different perspectives focusing on the unknown future where the stakes are high and cannot be solved by one person. By cultivating relationships and empowering your leadership team, you can provide your community the unique recovery actions, policies and plans they need.  Your authentic, transparent, selfless, and adaptable leadership will be embraced by your team if you:

  • Encourage innovative and creative solutions  
  • Eliminate distractions by delegating those tasks to appropriate team members
  • Check in with your team regularly to gauge both personal and professional concerns
  • Design an emotionally supportive and safe environment
  • Provide commitment to the recovery mission and your team as recovery work can be exhausting
  • Provide regular gratitude and celebrate your team
  • Update your team to prevent feelings of irrelevance in an uncertain environment


The community is desperate for communications from their leadership.  If they do not receive consistent and reliable information from you, they will do everything they can to find their answers from another source which may provide uninformed or worse, sensationalized information.    You must provide messaging with internal government, external government, stakeholders, and the greater community to control inevitable rumors and provide a sense of calm when you are designated as the community’s trusted and reliable information with these guidelines:

  • Ensure that the message is transparent, consistent, repeated, constant, and coordinated
  • Manage expectations and provide clear explanations
  • Focus on what you do know and do not speculate
  • Do not dismiss or downplay the situation
  • Provide factual data, information and actions underway and cite your sources
  • Identify the best person to deliver the message based on the audience
  • Customize the message to the audience
  • Promote collaborative and empathic messaging

Economic development leaders can make great economic recovery leaders, but they need the ability to adapt to a new way of approaching strategies and relying on a team that can support recovery management and planning in the long term.  Do not let your uncertainty, lack of information, fear of making uninformed decisions, inevitable criticisms, everchanging environment and demands create anxiety.  Embrace the uncertainty and lead your community during this difficult, yet enlightening, journey of recovery.