As I write this, wind gusts are approaching 60 mph, and the rain continues to pelt the side of my house. Hurricane Sandy is just making landfall, but its massive power has been felt up and down the East Coast for hours. In the Washington area, there’s been flooding and downed trees. The windows shake, and trees wave frantically.
Am I ready for this?
Storms definitely test the mettle of leaders. And like a good Boy Scout, leaders are supposed to “be prepared.” I’m not talking about having enough batteries or bottled water. I’m talking about how well we respond to the unexpected and lead others through a crisis.
Leadership is not just smart contingency planning and brilliant execution under extreme conditions; it’s the willingness to assist the ill-prepared and less fortunate. It’s the ability to look past your own nose and help a neighbor or someone on your team to dry land. It’s the code of leaving no one behind, and putting others first and yourself second.
In every disaster, there are examples of unselfish and heroic efforts to save lives and property. We can’t all be heroes, but we can learn to show leadership when times seem to be their darkest.
After Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, much was written about the lessons learned in responding to natural disasters. Point Eight Power, a firm located near New Orleans, wrote a paper describing what it calls the “five pillars” of disaster planning. Summarized below, see how many you’re practicing in your organization:
- People first. The first responsibility of leaders is to their people. Our primary objective was to account for our employees and their families. Were they alive? Unharmed? Safe?
- Communication is king. The absence of communications leaves a void in which rumor and misinformation flourish. We knew that a comprehensive and aggressive communications effort would be critical to our success.
- Gather intelligence. In the days immediately following the hurricane, uncertainty reigned. The need for intelligence was paramount.
- Manage morale. Everyone needed to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Consequently we developed a vision and enlisted everyone in our efforts to achieve it: A handful of success stories will emerge in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, a handful of companies who with focus, alignment and commitment will overcome the obstacles, survive and thrive. We will be one of those stories.
- Honor the heroic efforts. Crisis provides the opportunity for heroic efforts. We witnessed many such efforts at Point Eight Power. While many employees were selfless in acting to protect the company, a large number reached out to those outside of the Point Eight Power family. These employees focused on the less fortunate members of the community and provided shelter, food and support in many forms.
Point Eight Power notes, “Dealing with crisis made us hold a mirror to ourselves.” In the coming days, when we look back at how well we responded to Sandy, let’s hope it’s not a series of “woulda, coulda, shouldas,” but, instead, is a moment of inspired leadership and compassionate preparedness.