I spent the night after Hurricane Irene hit helping out in the Red Cross shelter in Stamford, Connecticut. Six years ago, my sons and I spent a week with a group from our church helping out in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit. Talk about a tale of two cities! As everyone knows, New Orleans’ response was marked by its lack of coordination, supplies, direction, and commitment. What we saw this week was a clarity of purpose, strongly coordinated support, flexibility, confidence and commitment.
THE MICRO VIEW
At our shelter in Stamford this week, everyone helping out kept their eyes on the people in need. No one was worrying about whose job something was or was not. Everyone was worrying about how to make a very bad situation better for the people in need. As the Red Cross’s Charley Shimanski says, we were the best part of these people’s worst day.
The coordinated support was remarkable as well. At the shelter were a handful of volunteers from the Red Cross, a member of the Stamford department of health, a nurse and building maintenance. Throughout the very long, dark night we had periodic visits from fire and police staffs, offering a cheering smile and any support they could provide. Additionally, others’ support was entirely visible. The Salvation Army had prepared meals. Other organizations had dropped off supplies and equipment.
THE BROADER VIEW
We learn this lesson over and over again in crises, in disasters, in day-to-day events: preparation breeds confidence. A little over-preparation, a little over-communication, a little over-anticipation goes a long way.
I personally like the “How stupid would you feel” test. When faced with tough decisions, how stupid would you feel if you ordered a few too many people to evacuate and a couple of them were inconvenienced? How stupid would you feel if you ordered a few too few people to evacuate and they got into serious trouble. Mayor Bloomberg in NYC, Governor Christie in NJ, other governors up and down the East Coast applied this test early and often this past week and minimized the numbers seriously affected.
THE LEARNING VIEW
A lot went well this past week. And as one of the people who is still without power, I can tell you a lot could have gone better. Either way, there are some lessons that apply. Generally speaking, our leaders did a better job this week than six years ago during Hurricane Katrina in:
- Preparing in Advance
- Reacting to Events
- Bridging the Gaps
Those of you that have read my paper on “Leading through a Crisis – A 100-Hour Action Plan” will recognize those three ideas. Those of you that have not read it can either send me an email to request it at firstname.lastname@example.org or go through it in the appendices of the third edition of our book “The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan” when it comes out in October. The main points are:
1) Prepare in advance. The better you have anticipated possible scenarios, the more prepared you are, the more confidence you will have when crises strike. Homeland Security, FEMA, the Red Cross, state governors, mayors and others were better prepared this time around and it showed.
2) React to events. The reason you prepared is so that you all can react quickly and flexibly to the situation you face. Don’t over-think this. Do what you prepared to do. Local responders reacted well this time around, continually adjusting to the ever-evolving situations they faced.
3) Bridge the gaps. In a crisis, there is inevitably a gap between the desired and current state of affairs. Rectify that by bridging those gaps in the:
- Situation: Implementing a response to the current crisis.
- Response: Improving capabilities to respond to future crises.
- Prevention: Reducing the risk of future crises happening in the first place.
This is a good example of step one of The New Leader’s Playbook: Position Yourself for Success
There are several components of this, including positioning yourself for a leadership role, selling before you buy, mapping and avoiding the most common land mines, uncovering hidden risks in the organization, role, and fit, and choosing the right approach for your transition type.
The New Leader’s Playbook includes the 10 steps that executive onboarding group PrimeGenesis uses to help new leaders and their teams get done in 100-days what would normally take six to twelve months. George Bradt is PrimeGenesis’ managing director, and co-author of The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan (Wiley, third edition to be released fall 2011). Follow him at @georgebradt or on YouTube.