Notes for The Astonishing Power of Shared Opportunity and Moral Purpose

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Steven F. Freeman
Knowledge + Leadership


* Thanks to Darshi Mody, Laura Freeman and John Ervin for helpful comments and feedback on this article.

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The story of Sandler O’Neill: Links to research gate project, Jefferson articles, Crisalis SO page.

Blame: The blaming is part of the problem. Politicians blame the other party, their media mouthpieces clogging the airwaves and legions of misled acolytes and joining in internet choruses. Joining the Internet chorus is actually part of the problem, part of a system for channeling attention. Being criticized is sort of the job of the politician, to be a lightening rod, to take the furor of a nation and safely ground it. what their job is, Critics unceasingly accuse the White House of doing too little or too much continue to lay blame on the political lightening rods

:,Leadership generosity: See also:

The ultra-competitive, intensely effortful world of Wall Street: a good characterization of the Wall Street life: While doing all the work of the workaday world ( the time was Bonfire of the Vanities in which these Masters of the Universe spent their days trading and then in the one hour after market close did all the things that filled the entire day of the

not Sandler’s core left to face the challenge, but rather those on the periphery: Aquote by Frankl A somewhat similar idea. Moreover, as is often the case, it was not always the best that survived

the “soul of the company”

New York Times Michael Moss and Charles V. Bagli Sept. 13, 2001, Section A, Page 6 “AFTER THE ATTACKS: THE TOWERS; Instincts to Flee Competed With Instructions to Remain.”

I was there that morning.

Cut for now:

OK, so, now, how

So how could they possibly do all this? Here’s the list:

You can read our full research including how we reached these conclusions and the ….

At the time the term organizational resiliency did not quite exist. There was

Nine other organizations suffered large numbers of 9/11 deaths: five more World Trade Center financial service firms, the Pentagon, the NY City Fire and Police Departments, and the Port Authority. Although none has enjoyed the enormous post 9/11 success of Sandler O’Neill, all have survived and seem to have recovered or are on a path of recovery. The relative resilience of all ten organizations suggests that either this crisis or these organizations are significantly different than those previously studied by organizational theorists.

  • Be clear about what makes the crisis a crisis. Respond to that. Clarify motivation — a purpose — to rally an organization and those around it.
  • Be openly and unapologetically opportunistic in manifesting that purpose. Share the rewards equitably.

We’ve seen very little leadership attuned to mission, opportunity and equity. Rather Agendas and purposes are largely hidden. has done

Easier said than done. But it is

Even in the purported land of opportunity, it is unseemly to be “opportunistic” and one is especially not supposed to “take advantage” of anything, least of all a crisis. Rather, we praise to high heaven health care workers who and other essential laborers who keep the food supply flowing. But there’s a great deal of hypocrisy and manipulation in both. Young people are sent off to die in war while rich industrialists grow far richer still. Today grocery workers may be hailed as heroes, but the fact is that they’re still only earning minimal wages, while, again, others who risk nothing at all are becoming phenomenally rich.

Let’s look to non-hypocritical leadership. That doesnt take advantage.

Most of us aspire to do good but I

I encouraged you to retain agency, to have an agenda … to identify what When Covid-19 went pandemic, I received renewed interest in 9/11 research that I conducted with Larry Hirschhorn and Marc Maltz on Ground Zero organizations — and

People wanted to know or remember how they achieved what they did because the story suggests hope in the face of current challenges and also an example, perhaps even a model of crisis leadership.

* I created a separate article for all the additional notes. Everywhere you see an asterisk, there is a note there with further information and/or citations.

Situational Factors

The nature of the crisis. Research on personal resilience (Werner 1984; Joseph 1994; Garmezy 1991, 1993; Vaillant 1995) suggests that victims are more resilient to abuse or attacks when:

1. There was no prior history

2. The abuse was short-lived, e.g., a one-time rape rather than ongoing abuse

3. The violator was a stranger, rather than someone who was trusted, even a little bit

4. Their environment supports rather than blames them

The same situational factors that contribute to or undermine resilience among individuals seem to also apply to organizations (Freeman & Maltz 2002): In the case of the 9/11 attacks, all these situational characteristics were favorable to recovery:

1. Sandler O’Neill suffered no prior abuse.

2. Although the attack was deadly, it was over quickly.

3. Osama Bin Laden is the consummate stranger, characterized as “evil incarnate.”

4. Sandler was not only blameless, but noble, attacked because they were a symbol of American success.

The environment has been extraordinarily supportive. Competitors did the work, cut the firm into deals, and passed along a part of the profits. A supplier provided temporary office space. Past clients remained loyal to the firm and new ones called to initiate deals.

Causal relationships between Organizational Health and Crisis

Causal relationships between organizational health and crisis. Poor crisis recovery rates may also be attributable to underlying organizational problems. Past research on organizational crises suffers from an important confounding factor: organizations, like people, are often embroiled in crisis because of deep problems preceding the crisis. A firm that is unable or unwilling to pay for proper security measures, for example, is far more likely to suffer a security breach than a healthy, well-managed firm. The September 11th attacks, however, were targeted at the strong: the symbols of the nation’s military and financial dominance.[1] Sandler O’Neill, in particular, was by any measure — wealth, reputation, personnel, culture, systems, and relationships — an extremely healthy firm on 9/10/01. The general resilience of the 9/11 organizational victims and the particularly successful recovery of Sandler O’Neill suggest that (healthy) organizations may be generally more resilient than we had believed.



Steven F. Freeman
Knowledge + Leadership

Expertise: crisis preparedness, resiliency, innovation, research methods & applications. Faculty Jefferson, UPenn+. PhD MIT. Advising industry, govnt, orgs, YOU