Leading through a crisis well is all about inspiring and enabling others to get things vaguely right quickly, and then adapting along the way—with clarity around direction, leadership, and roles. By definition, a crisis has a major, temporary impact. The best responders take a disciplined, iterative approach to preparing in advance, reacting quickly and flexibly and then bridging gaps in the current situation, their future ability to respond and reducing risks of future crises happening at all.
Unfortunately, we keep learning how not to do this. We don’t anticipate possible scenarios. We don’t prepare. We’re not ready. Then, when crises hit, we don’t react well. We don’t flex. We over think and underact. And then we fail to improve our capabilities to prevent or respond to future crises.
Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico
Witness the preparation and response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Decades of deferred maintenance and deficits left the infrastructure especially vulnerable and the local government with no room to operate, let alone flex. It’s hard to imagine worse preparation for a foreseeable risk.
Much has been written about the response, or lack thereof. Indeed, more than two months after Maria hit, the island remains in seemingly unending crisis. Millions, especially in rural, harder to reach communities remain without power, access to clean drinking water, refrigeration, and other essential resources.
There are, of course, pockets of people and organizations doing what they can. One example is OHorizons, a non-profit formed to design and engineer simple, scalable, sustainable and empowering solutions that can be implemented locally to solve problems around the “Four Horizons” of life: water, agriculture, energy and economic development.
Orlando Bustos, founder of OHorizons and Puerto Rican resident told me how he was moved by people in Puerto Rico “who lost everything” to Maria and live in fear of the dark at night. Yet, “even facing nothingness these people still invite you to come in” to share their wall-less kitchens and roofless shelters. Community is a core value in rural Puerto Rico.
At Orlando’s direction, OHorizons turned its resources and attention to bringing portable solar power and clean water to thirty-four rural municipalities in Puerto Rico they identified as underserved and at further risk over the short and longer term.
As OHorizons’ CEO Tamara Minick-Scokalo told me, “We focus on helping people help themselves. Instead of giving them batteries or bottles of water, we give them tools to bridge the gap until the infrastructure is back up and running – which will likely take far longer in the rural areas than in the big cities. When the lights go back on in San Juan, these communities risk being forgotten.” In conjunction with their allies, OHorizons plans to provide:
• 20,000 clean water filters – each filling 100 people’s daily needs
• 25,000 solar home battery lights and charging systems
• 500 portable generators – for emergency/medical situations
• 75 solar refrigeration units – for hospital supply and community food storage
OHorizons has this at least vaguely right and is a good Giving Day cause to support through this link. The people of Puerto Rico need help now and over time.
Implications for you
Practice disciplined iteration in line with your overall purpose:
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.
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 overthink this. Do what you prepared to do.
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.