When facing a crisis, collaboration, flexibility, empathy, and resiliency are the hallmarks of leaders who successfully navigate turbulent waters.
The true colors of leaders appear during a crisis and Hurricane Harvey was a shining example. From the Mayor and County Judge to the neighborhood volunteer, there are lessons to be learned on how to lead others when their world has turned upside-down.
Decisiveness, collaboration, flexibility are all needed when lives matter and there’s no time for extended analysis. Leaders who can take time to show empathy to those affected instead of just barking directions or demanding results create a culture where every person, every home, and in this situation, every pet matters. And, don’t forget the resiliency of Texans to survive this and come back stronger. Right leadership shines along with the true spirit of caring.
I am writing this exactly 7 days after it started to rain in Houston. It’s a city prone to flash flooding and hurricanes and we made our preparations as if it were going to be a “normal” storm. We checked our batteries and water supplies. We started making extra ice. We filled the bathtub with water. We moved the lawn furniture and anything that could be a projectile. By Thursday night, there was no bottled water at the store and the eggs were sold out. The guy in front of us in line was stocking up on beer.
Fortunately, I live at a higher elevation and I happen to have a new roof. I was dry and safe the whole time. But just down the street from where I live, the bayou was cresting its banks and flooding neighbors’ houses a few blocks away.
I’ve had some time away from the office to reflect on the leadership skills to cope with a disaster of such proportions. County Judge Ed Emmett exhibits many of these. Decisiveness is important in dealing with a crisis. Judge Emmett performed admirably as we took in refugees from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. He put these lessons to use. He didn’t allow the media’s second guessing about whether we should have evacuated to distract the rescue efforts. Note: Forecast models were scattered and many areas that have never flooded before were inundated. No one could have anticipated who to send away and who to have shelter in place. Houston had experienced a nightmare of evacuation when Hurricane Rita came through a while back.
On a more granular level, I watched my daughter exhibit decisiveness when tackling the clean-up in her home that took in about 10 inches of water. It would have been easy to stand there and be overwhelmed with so much to do. She just keeps putting one foot in front of the next and making decisions that move the progress forward. You can’t look back.
I have listened to many stories of clients, friends, and strangers who have lost most everything. They have to move out of their homes for an extended period of time and their lives are topsy-turvy. I have learned through my Stephen Ministry training (an ecumenical lay program), that just being there and listening can go a long way. I have to remember that just because my house and my street are dry and the sun is shining, others are not so fortunate. I can’t expect my business calendar to be full or the stores to be fully operational yet.
Being willing to help and not worrying about who gets the credit is another observation from this storm. Local news reporters are trying to fill air space and get people to speak on camera about their heroism. Most are declining as there is much more work to do. Local officials are sharing the limelight and working together instead of trying to one-up each other on whose team is more effective.
I have watched more people than I can count switch gears to help where they can. Rules have been suspended so that the average citizen can be a good Samaritan without fear of being sued if something happens while they have a stranger in their boat. In the early efforts following Katrina, officials were wary of accepting help from what is now lovingly called the “Cajun Navy”. Here in Houston, both the Mayor and the County Judge knew right away that they needed all the help they could get.
Don’t underestimate the ability of Houston/Rockport/Corpus Christi and Beaumont to bounce back. It will take time but Texans are resilient. It’s a leadership quality that drew me to Texas and has kept me here most of my career. People are not sitting at home lamenting their circumstances. They are rolling up their sleeves and getting to work on rebuilding. I heard the administrator of the Port of Houston say they are starting to accept cargo in the port terminals so that it will be ready to load once they can safely open the ports and Ship Channel to cargo traffic. She wants to jump start the economy as soon as it is feasible.
So the next time you are faced with a crisis, think about these leadership traits and how they might apply to your situation. Will you have empathy for those around you? Will you look forward and be future-focused or will you moan about what might have been? Depending on when you are reading this, take a look at how Houston is faring. I’ll bet that it’s a city that is rebuilding with vigor and resiliency.
Ron Schutz, author of American Fathers (CLICK HERE to get your copy), is also an engineer and member of the United States Naval Reserve. Schutz completed his MBA at New York University and now with nearly fifty years of business experience, consults with business owners to help them realize their full financial potential and develops strategies to prepare companies for transition. For more information, please visit www.profitpicture.net or www.ronschutzauthor.com.
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