Dick Parsons is a master of leadership during crisis

Flight Templates are templated flights, or sets of questions, written by some of the world’s preeminent business leaders. With Flight Templates, Balloon users get unparalleled access to seasoned perspectives and proven business strategies across all areas of business, including leadership, product, marketing & sales, innovation, employee experience, culture, and more. This feature is part of a series on The Insight that profiles Balloon’s Flight Template authors.

Time and time again, Richard “Dick” Parsons has proven himself to be The Man with the Plan—so much so that a well-earned retirement has eluded him for some time now.

“I retired when I was in my early sixties and was happily retired for about a month when the financial crisis hit,” the former chairman and CEO of Time Warner said, remembering how his fellow Citibank board members insisted he come out of retirement, take the lead as Citibank’s Chairman, and navigate the company through the infamous mid-2000s tumult. 

By the end of the decade, his leadership guided Citibank out of the weeds, and he tried his hand at post-professional life for a second time. However, in 2014, Parsons was roused out of retirement once again when he became the interim CEO of the Los Angeles Clippers, after recordings of former Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s racist remarks went public.

These experiences—combined with his military service in the early 1970s, his time spent as a lawyer and counsel to both Nelson Rockefeller and President Gerald Ford, his tenure in additional executive positions at Dime Savings Bank of New York and CBS, and even his moment as an economic adviser to the Obama administration—made Parsons particularly adept at risk assessment, change management, and leadership during crisis. Now, Parsons is enjoying his third go at retirement, but his new, three-part flight template series, Leadership during Uncertainty, is here to help when you need his expertise—just like so many others have before.

  • Prepare and Empower Employees
  • Leadership through Uncertainty or Crisis
  • Change Management and Team Alignment

Each flight within Parsons’s series will help your team navigate turbulent times, which is a particularly vital process these days, as the COVID-19 pandemic, political transition, and waves of social change are unseating professional norms, operations, and cultures across the country and even around the world. There isn’t much he hasn’t seen in his 50-plus-year career, and most of the lessons he learned through the decades—for example, to never underestimate the value of frequent, clear communication (It's "indispensable to alignment,” as Parsons put it)—remain hard truths. However, even he admits that today’s problems (and solutions) don’t feel quite as straightforward as they once did in decades passed.

“The world is very complicated nowadays, much more so than it used to be,” said Parsons. “Nobody knows everything, and to pretend that you do, or to surround yourself with people who just support your beliefs, is foolish and ultimately destructive.”

Parsons makes a strong case for actively seeking and harnessing the power of a cognitively diverse team; it will help immensely to weed out problems even before they materialize. However, even the tightest, most well-rounded teams do not have perfect foresight, so when those hard times arise, great leadership is essential. No matter what forces are shaking the earth beneath you, Parsons considers the questions in his flight template series are truly evergreen.

“In crisis, you gotta keep your head together. You have to manifest the confidence that you know ‘We can get through this,’ and you have to get folks to believe that they are capable and empowered to do the job that they’ve been asked to do,” said Parsons. “And here’s the thing: Whatever the enterprise, wherever the industry, it's all about the people.

Check out Dick Parson's Flight Template Series

Former Chairman & CEO, Time Warner