THOUGHTS ON LEADERSHIP: THROUGH THE STORM

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels find me in Northern California, in calls and meetings with our teams across the globe. As I write this, I just finished a great meeting in San Francisco with Paula Gold-Nocella, broker and regional partner at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Drysdale Properties, and her team. Drysdale Properties, led by Gretchen Pearson, president/owner, is the largest independent and 100% woman-owned Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices brokerage in the network. During the meeting at Drysdale Properties, I shared the story of my real estate career and the keys to a successful mindset and routine.
Success is a highly personal and relative term, its definition infinitely changeable based on the circumstances in which you find yourself. For those in the Bahamas, and for those in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia, success this week means safety, and specifically, staying safe from Hurricane Dorian.

But even in dark storm clouds, we can find light, particularly as difficult, threatening conditions force true leaders to calm down, rise up and lead. Here are a few lessons to be learned from hurricanes:

Leaders must exist in a world of reality and reason. Writing for the Human Capital Institute, clinical psychologist-turned CEO and coach Dr. Gregory Ketchum recalled his experience in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. He writes: “My first response was an overwhelming feeling of this isn’t supposed to be happening now that consumed me … [but] I accepted what was actually happening and started to figure out how to deal with it. I had to quickly shift my internal frame of reference from what I thought was going to happen to match a new, radically changed external reality.”

When unexpected challenges strike, leaders must trust their intuition. “This direct experience of having to engage my leadership instincts was a necessary step in learning to identify and trust myself and my intuition,” Dr. Ketchum says. Forbes contributor Bonnie Marcus expressed a similar sentiment in a 2015 article about intuition as an essential leadership tool. “At the end of the day when we’ve reviewed the data over and over again and have asked others for their opinions, it’s our gut that is our best counsel,” she writes. The ability to trust in your experience and acquired knowledge to deal with present difficulties, no matter how new or frightening they may be, is what separates a good leader from a great one.

Preparation is essential to survival. Abraham Lincoln once said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” There is absolutely nothing good about a hurricane but in the scope of natural disasters like tornados or flash floods, at the very least, we know well in advance when a hurricane will hit. This means preparation becomes key to safety and success. Just as a leader would for any expected business obstacle, it’s important to analyze the potential scenarios that can occur and make sure everyone is adequately prepared with a plan of action for each one of them.

Leaders must be proactive. “The Bystander Effect” or “Bystander Apathy” is a social psychological claim whereby individuals are less likely to offer help to a victim when other people are present. The correlation between bystanders and help is inverse; the greater the number of bystanders present, the less likely it is that someone will help another person in need. Leaders, however, do not succumb to bystander apathy. No matter how big the crowd, leaders will always step up to help when necessary. In fact, for leaders, the opposite of a Bystander Effect may be true. The very best leaders ignore the sociological pull of peer pressure and flourish when others might flounder.

Leaders focus on solution-based action. When chaos strikes, it’s important to stay calm and focus on the elements of the situation that can be changed and improved. As leadership coach Diana M. Gáler explains, “A crisis is a time for action – calm, measured and planned action.” Leaders understand their role is to make a situation better than it would be in their absence through solution-based actions.

Leaders focus on what’s really important. No matter what, our safety, our family, our friends and our neighbors are what matter most. Material things can be replaced, lives cannot.

So, what’s the message? Hurricanes are destructive examples of nature’s fury, but they’re also instances when true leaders step up. Hard times are when real heroes are made, altruism shines in the darkness and through perilous rainfall, the goodness of humanity still reigns.

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