What Hurricane Matthew Teaches About Leadership

As I am writing this blog, my wife and I just went through our first major hurricane as Floridians. As of this writing, we made it through without any damage to property, although physically we are exhausted as we didn’t get much sleep last night. This was a unique experience for us. Having grown up in the midwest, we are used to tornados happening every spring. With a tornado, a thunderstorm would blow up over the course of an hour or so, the storm would happen, and then pass by quickly. The damage from the tornado can be horrific for those in its direct path and there just isn’t much warning.

Unlike the tornados in the midwest, with hurricane Matthew, we watched the devastating storm for days before it hit. We saw the destruction in Haiti and then watched the storm turn north with winds over 130mph. The storm was reported to be the size of the state of Texas, covering at times most of the Florida peninsula. The advanced hurricane warnings gave us several days to prepare both mentally and physically for what could lie ahead. I can personally attest to preparation being the key to making it through one of these beasts.

Huge hurricane between Florida and Cuba. Elements of this image furnished by NASA

As Matthew passed the Orlando area we experienced winds of 55mph with driving rains and localized flooding. While we were spared any damage at our home, there were some anxious times watching the trees bend and the eerie whistling sound from gusting wind. If you want to hear the sound of hurricane wind you can click this link to get a sense of the spookiness.

We are eternally grateful for being spared. A shift of 30 miles to the west could have meant a completely different outlook Ifor us. Kim and I hope you will join us in keeping those in North Florida, Haiti, Cuba, Jamaica, and other Caribbean islands in your thoughts and prayers. If you feel led, I hope you will join us in giving a donation to the RedCross or a charitable organization of your choice who respond in times like this. The humanitarian work that organizations like the RedCross does in times of crisis is vital to bringing life back to some degree of normal for millions of those affected.

Matthew and Leadership

Preparation for the storm. Now there is a metaphor worthy of leadership!

It is not if you are going to go through storms as a leader but WHEN!

Some of the storms you will experience you will get ample warning about, like we did with hurricane Matthew. Other storms will pop up seemingly out of nowhere and will rip a narrow path of destruction across your leadership.

After having gone through this most recent storm, I can assure you that the time to prepare for those crucible moments as a leader is not during the storm. During the storm:

  • Things are crazy! Information comes from all directions. It is hard to know what to believe.
  • Anxiety makes it hard to think straight. The only thought seemingly available is to survive.
  • Thinking turns inward. Thoughts of others become more difficult.

As hurricane Matthew raged around us all night long, we just prayed for the storm to pass and that we would be spared the damage and devastation that was possible. We saw the pictures from Haiti. We knew the threat was very real. It is funny that during these tense moments in life, how God somehow seems a little more real and personal.

Preparation is the Key to Performance

I am convinced that for leaders to perform during the storms that come around them, preparation is key. We likely would have been much worse off had we not taken the time to get ready in advance for this storm. What is true for weather, is wisdom for leaders.

Yet I am continually amazed at leaders who refuse development, or to work on their leadership during the calm seasons. “We will get around to it sometime." “We just don’t have the budget right now.” “We are so busy, there is just no time.” “Sure, development is important, we just have too many priorities to fit it in now.” These are fairly common things I hear from organizations when it comes to developing leaders.

They wait until things get rough and the storm rages and then call in for help. One thing I learned during this storm we experienced that I did not know prior is that if the winds blew at over 45mph, rescue workers would not come and save you. If you did not heed the warnings given, and the storm got so bad, the first responders could not risk their own lives to save you. In leadership development often what we find ourselves doing is damage control when we are called in last minute. Why not be proactive and prepare?

Leaders, heed the warnings you get. Pay attention to the forecast. Prepare for your storms before they hit.

Here are some things we did prior to hurricane Matthew to get ready for the storm and some ideas for leadership application:

screen-shot-2016-10-08-at-12-45-58-am

How ready are you as a leader for your next storm? How ready is your team? The time to build strength and reinforce structures is when the weather is good. Florida Governor Rick Scott continually told Floridians: "Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst." Sage Advice.

Hope is a comforting vision..and a bad strategy.

As leaders let's not hope we will survive our next storm, let's put a plan in place to get ready now.

Homework

Reflect on storms you have experienced as a leader in the past. Where were you strong? Are there structures in your leadership that need to be reinforced? Are there things that need to be rebuilt altogether? What ONE action do you need to take today to plan for the next leadership storm? After you have thought about yourself, think about your team. Have them analyze where they are and what weaknesses they need to shore up to survive the next onslaught.