Hurricane Harvey brought a disastrous situation to the greater Houston area. Historically, it is the most extreme rain event in U.S. history! Living in the Houston area, I have seen a lot of heartache, fear, and damage and destruction to people’s home and lives. I have also witnessed the heart of a city that is strong, resilient, gritty, and compassionate. In short, I have witnessed leadership in action!
Great leaders respond both in good times and in crisis situations. In fact, you often discover the character of people, communities, cities, and organizations and businesses when they are tested in the fire of a menacing trial. This has been one of those trials, and Houston has responded as Texans often do in big moments. They show up strong when it matters most!
The following are some leadership lessons that we can all learn from Hurricane Harvey and what great leaders do in challenging situations:
- Assess the Situation – The best leaders always assess the situation and identiy key challenges, roadblocks, obstacles, and opportunities in order to develop the right strategy for success. They don’t act first and ask questions later. They seek context to inform their choices and key decisions, and they always define the core problem or problems, not just the symptoms.
- Discern How They Can Help – Once they assess the situation, great leaders quickly and effectively discern how they can help. During this crisis in Houston, I have seen volunteer leaders respond in an incredible way by identifying the resources they have and putting them to use. Vehicles and bigger boats could not be used to get to the neighborhood houses to help people evacuate, so neighbors began to collaborate by bringing their rafts, kayaks, and canoes to rescue points. Neighbors showed up and asked “How can I help?” They also responded to messages on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media channels and brought resources to provide rescue and relief to those in need.
- Act in the Best Way Possible – Great leaders also act in the best way possible for the greater good of the people around them. In the case of Hurricane Harvey, volunteers did not just stand on the sidelines, they jumped in with both feet – literally – navigating and walking through flood waters to rescue families who were desperate for help. They set up makeshift command posts at schools and other local places on dry ground to organize the rescue effort that included sending kayaks and canoes to addresses that were sent through Facebook posts and text messages. Once people were aboard, they were taken to dry ground where vehicles could get them to schools, churches, and other relief shelters. Swift and effective action is needed in times of great crisis, and these leaders acted in a way that was inspirational and had a profound positive impact on the affected community!
- Serve to Make a Positive Difference – While acting and affecting change, the best leaders also lead with a servant’s heart. They never do acts of kindness to receive a reward. They do it, because it is the right thing to do. They do it, because they must. They do it, because they are compelled to make a positive difference in the lives of other people. They show up in a big way, because it is who they are! They are leaders who care and have a bias for action within their sphere of influence.
While there are many people who exemplified these qualities and habits during this time of crisis in Houston, I personally want to thank and recognize my friend Cal Neff who was an incredible leader to many people during the last few days. He was leading kayak recoveries, organizing command posts, reaching out to people through text messages and Facebook Live posts to help as many people as he could and inspire many other volunteers in the Katy area on the west side of Houston to act and serve. While the count of how many people he directly and indirectly helped over the last few days is hard to measure, I personally know that he helped rescue at least 600 people in one day through his leadership and organization of a great team of volunteers who rallied behind his efforts. All of this began with him and a friend on a kayak looking for people in need at the beginning of this epic disaster and turned into an incredible volunteer effort.
The recovery in Houston will take some time, but Houston has a great group of strong and resilient leaders who will come together to be better than before. Thanks for your prayers for us and for your pledge of support through organizations like the American Red Cross. I also hope that you can apply these lessons and tactics in your role as a leader at home, at work, and in your community to make a positive difference! Assess. Discern. Act. Serve. It’s the playbook of all great leaders!