I’m on a flight home from several days spent with my colleagues of Speakers Roundtable. We hold a 3 ½ day collegial and educational meeting each summer. The event is rich with idea sharing and fellowship. Each member gets 20-30 minutes to report on his or her respective business and/or pose a question to the group for feedback. The diversity and wisdom of the group provides lots of powerful insights and suggestions. (You can easily form your own mastermind group of like-minded individuals using this simple format.)
One of our members, Nido Qubein of High Point, N.C. became president of High Point University a little over a year ago. The reinvention that Nido is leading at HPU is nothing short of extraordinary. You’ll learn more about what serious innovation is going on at HPU in a future ezine. I also plan to interview HPU’s Director of Wow in a future issue of The Fred Factor ezine, so if you don’t already receive it, sign up at FredFactor.com.
Knowing that this issue of Leadership Lessons was due, I was contemplating what to write on my UAL flight from Chicago to Denver when a medical emergency occurred. Fortunately the individual’s condition wasn’t life-threatening, but watching the airline personnel and a doctor who as a passenger attend to the man lying prostrate in the aisle was discomforting.
As I was observing this scene, it reminded me of how surprised we are when an emergency occurs, whether it happens to us or someone around us. I’m quite sure the passenger with the health problem didn’t board the plane with any inkling that he’d have a significant health problem, nor did any of his fellow passengers.
And yet that risk is always present. Over the past twenty years I’ve seen numerous situations like this, been diverted for an emergency landing at least twice, had my flight detained due to a sick passenger in Tokyo and even boarded a flight that had been delayed for the removal of a deceased passenger. None of that is meant to be morose, but to make the point: the unexpected happens all the time.
Most of us don’t give this much thought until it happens, just as most burglar alarms are sold after a residential break-in. To live a safer and saner life requires some conscious preparation that, unfortunately, many people never make.
How do leaders prepare for emergency situations? The specifics of any emergency situation change, whether it involves physical or fiscal health, or if it threatens plant facilities or employee safety. Here are some basic guidelines that will hopefully remind you of some important steps you might not have considered recently.
First, think about what might happen. That statement sounds painfully obvious, but it really isn’t. Hearing about what might happen isn’t the same as thinking about what might happen. We are all aware of the threat of avian flu, but how many of us have really thought about the personal, social, organizational and economic implications? As someone who travels for a living, avian flu could literally halt my business. And with a contract to make an appearance that requires air travel, what are my obligations not only to my client but to my family in terms of putting them at risk by traveling during a potential pandemic? These are just a few of the questions I’ve carefully considered.
Before 911 occurred, most Americans knew a terrorist act could happen, but most believed it wouldn’t. Even now, several years later, I think many believe it could happen again, but won’t. A terrorist act will happen again in this country, and it is only a matter of time. While optimism makes me hope I’m wrong, I’ve thought enough about the situation to know that I’m not. The subtle difference between knowing something could happen and that eventually it will happen creates an entirely different mindset.
Thinking through what might happen helps lessen the shock of an emergency when it does occur and allows a leader to more quickly focus on what do to in response.
Second, arm yourself with information. When you think about potential threats to yourself or your business, do some basic research around the possibilities, probabilities and solutions related to such situations. A quick internet search can turn up basic and advanced information on just about any threat imaginable.
I’ve had several discussions about the avian flu with a friend who has attended two state-level emergency preparedness meetings around the subject. His expertise has proven very helpful in how I think about the potential threat.
Third, formulate a basic plan. Unless you work for a large corporation with a staff dedicated to planning for the unexpected, you don’t have the time or expertise to develop detailed contingency plans for every situation. That shouldn’t stop you, however, from having basic plans about what to do about the emergencies most likely to occur. Consider sending an email or making a phone call to an expert you trust and ask, “What would you do if this happened?” Growing up on a farm I learned something that has served me well as a leader: expect the best, but plan for the worst.
Finally, share your plan with those affected and/or involved. Good information gets better when it is shared, and most emergencies are best handled by a team rather than a lone ranger.
It is critically important that you start with your family. Teach the above approach to your loved ones so they’ll be better prepared for the emergencies that come their way.
Here is one of many websites you can use to get started in preparing both your business and your kids: http://www.ready.gov
The United flight attendants knew what to do for the medical emergency we experienced: they were trained and had the necessary equipment on board to respond appropriately. Unlike the passengers, the airlines are very aware of the likelihood of an emergency situation. Anticipation, coupled with information and an action plan, all help lessen the trauma and negative outcomes. Leaders can think the same way about the potential emergencies that they—and those they lead—will eventually face.