DAVE MCGILLIVRAY AND SEAN RYAN
No matter how meticulous your planning, sooner or later something unexpected is going to occur that is going to require you to make on-the-spot decisions. Veteran race directors Dave McGillivray and Sean Ryan offer some tips on what to do (and not do) when disaster happens.
1. TAKE A DEEP BREATH: Avoid "Ready. Fire. Aim." by assessing the situation and gathering facts and input from all parties. Compose yourself by whatever means necessary, even hiding in a porta-potty!
2. MODEL CALMNESS: As the leader, you set the tone for the organization. Whether you choose to panic or demonstrate coolness under fire, your team is likely to follow your example!
3. CHECK THE FACTS: Try to "get to the source" of whatever crisis emerges. Oftentimes, you are well down the grapevine when news of the problem arrives, and it may be overstated. Similarly, doublecheck the facts that form the basis of your decision to limit second-guessing and blame later.
4. AVOID THE BLAME GAME: As humans, we usually frame problems first in terms of "who's at fault." Finger pointing will only escalate the emotional turmoil of the situation and slow the problem resolution process. There will be plenty of time after the race to examine the source of the problem and potential long-term remedies (including staff, vendor or public safety committee changes). Even then, be sure to weigh the appropriateness and the costs of punishing those at fault.
5. DON'T FIGHT FIRES ALONE: Avoid God-syndrome and thinking that because you carry the title of Race Director, the weight of the world rests on your shoulders. Bring others from your staff and public safety committee to the table and solicit their input. This will help you work through the problem in a collective, creative manner. Be open to the possibility that someone other than you might come up with the best solution.
6. LIMIT YOUR CONSTITUENCY: When any problem arises, everybody is likely to have an opinion about what should be done. Limit the input to those with holistic views, expertise on the topic and a stake in the matter.
7. TEST THE WATERS: When you have arrived at a preliminary decision, go to those affected by it (typically NOT all of the runners!) and solicit their opinions. Explain your rationale and calmly listen to their reactions. Even if they don't LIKE your decision, they will appreciate being heard.
8. COMMUNICATE WIDELY AND HONESTLY: Often in a face of a crisis beyond your control, the ONLY thing people can blame you for is not communicating early enough and widely enough. Avoid this error by using every channel at your disposal to get the word out. Be frank and honest in explaining the origin of the problem, options that were considered and why you chose this solution.
9. STAND YOUR GROUND: After a decision has been announced, accept that not all constituencies will embrace it. Remember that you are striving for what is best for the race and its participants in the long-run, not necessarily what will make some or even most participants happiest.
10. MAINTAIN PERSPECTIVE AND HUMOR: Remember "this too shall pass." In the greater scheme of things, something that goes wrong in a road race is usually a "first world problem." As time goes by, embrace the lessons learned from the problem and don't be afraid to laugh about it.
Dave McGillivray is the race director of the BAA Boston Marathon. In addition he directs or consults on a number of other major events ranging from the TD Beach to Beacon 10K and the New Balance Falmouth Road Race to the 2004 and 2008 Women’s Olympic Marathon Trials. He is the owner of Dave McGillivray Sports Enterprises, a complete event management firm.
Sean Ryan is the Director of the Fall 50; past Director of the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon, and the co-director of the Across the Bay 10K (MD).