Leading in a global pandemic. … The days following the monster Category 5 hurricane found me without any direction or idea of what to do next as each day unfolded. I’d been a professional rescuer, a navigator of businesses, boats and people, guiding them to safely reach their destinations for a couple of decades. And now, cut off from my global connections, I was left wondering, “what do I do now?”
The following is the fourth in a series on leadership and resilience strategies developed from weathering nature, life and business’ most catastrophic “storms.” How many times have you thought, when facing a tough situation that you couldn’t control, “I have no idea what to do next?”
When the dust settled after the first hurricane passed, I was just another victim trying to make sense of it all. I didn’t have any idea what to do next and I sure wasn’t thinking strategically! At the time of this post, we are facing a global pandemic with half the world’s population under stay-at-home orders, uncertain when the threat will diminish. It’s times like these when many of us may think that, with nowhere to go, no one to see, “there is nothing that I can do.”
Leading in a global pandemic
Following the Category 5 hurricane that destroyed my home, with transport off the island shut down, and without a pre-defined role in my community, I felt very helpless. In the post-apocalyptic aftermath, even without a designated role, opportunities to step forward do appear. I discovered that there were actions that I could take that would make a difference to the community, giving me a focus to alleviate the powerlessness I felt in the immediate aftermath.
Expedition leadership strategies offer four key roles for the Category 5 situation – designated leadership, peer leadership, self-leadership and active followership. Any one of these roles can become a touchstone for uncertain times. Finding your place when things seem out of control can ground you and give you purpose.
In the current pandemic, our compliance with the quarantine rules are an example of how we practice active followership – those of us without symptoms who choose to keep our “social distance” for the health, safety and protection of others is a contribution and something that we do for our community by, literally, doing nothing.
Leading in a global pandemic
On a yacht-racing team the skipper or the tactician are in charge, making decisions, with or without input. Crews on winning teams have mastered these leadership roles by not only performing their own tasks with high competency and efficiency, but also understanding what the other jobs are, and maintaining constant vigilance for changes in conditions, ready to step in with a freehand before an emergency overwhelms the crew, to keep the boat on course. Once, during the 5-minute starting sequence of a long-distance race, our boat had two different sails blow out within 4 minutes. Quick action on the part of every team member enabled the boat to get off the starting line and continue in the race.
This approach to leadership is possible in any enterprise or life situation. A good self-leader stays aware of the overall situation and takes on whatever responsibilities are within their power to not add to the burden of others.
Peer leadership is an opportunity for excellent self-leaders to step forward in service to their peers. Following the destruction of my home in the first hurricane and in anticipation of the next one two weeks later, I took shelter with and began to assist the salvage company owner and crew who were working round-the-clock to recover boats and restore order to the marina where 300 vessels had been destroyed. In this context, having had no prior experience, I researched and went about the business of importing heavy equipment, navigating the challenges to bring much-needed machinery to the hurricane-ravaged island.
And, finally, because I had access to occasionally-working telecoms and transportation, I was put in touch with a nascent volunteer organisation. I was to liaise with the British Military response to the disaster, to deliver geo-map location data of the conditions on the ground. I also facilitated bringing international volunteer medical personnel on to the island to assist with recovery efforts. These designated leadership roles were opportunities that came to me because I was open, available and willing.
Prior to that, I had no official role within the government or any volunteer organisation, nor would I have known how to contribute via any formal channels. Sometimes one can become a designated leader simply by filling a vacuum that was created. During the COVID-19 pandemic, with schools shut down, the Red Cross organised food service for school children who depended on school meals for nutrition. Volunteering to serve meals provides a much-needed service that contributes to the well-being of the entire community.
Finding a Category 5 leadership role in any catastrophic situation, whether it’s a global pandemic, a natural disaster, a cash-strapped business or anything in between, will give you focus and a purpose. And it need not be something that you are otherwise trained for. All that is required in these situations is that we are willing, stay aware and mindful in the evolving circumstances of what is needed, and know what we are capable of.
In the immortal words of the great Arthur Ashe, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”
In this continuing series, I share with you some key strategies to weather any Category 5 event, both during and in the aftermath, to not only lessen the impact, but to come through thriving. These are the “7 Barometers of Resilience” that I introduce in my upcoming book, The Resilient Leader: Life-Changing Strategies to Overcome Today’s Turmoil and Tomorrow’s Uncertainty.
More to come …