Most people know that when the seas are smooth almost anyone can be a sailor. That said, it is when the waves start to crash around and on us (crisis) that we find out if we have been in the hands of a real sailor all along. Not just because he or she knows what to do in the storm, but that his or her ship is solid enough going into the storm to survive it.
Leaders deal with rough seas all the time. The storm might be a market crash, political divisiveness that comes back on a business, or major shifts in monetary policy and foreign relations, or even natural disasters and/or epidemics. Whatever the storm, a leader stands and is counted upon when a crisis erupts. However, the mark of a good leader is also found in the shape that his or her ship is in when the crisis hits.
A perfect example of that was the Ebola crisis back in 2014. That crisis pointed out a number of holes in the hulls of many hospital systems. The damage to the hulls might have been as obvious as the lack of preparedness for handling/containing something like a dangerous contagion or in other cases as subtle as work environment where distrust was/is but one rumor away. The truth of leadership is shown not solely in guiding an organization through the storm, but also ensuring that it is strong enough to weather the storm before it begins.
This point came to me in a recent conversation with a healthcare executive when we were talking about the public concern that grew rapidly (exploded) here in Texas. He told me that he had been less worried about the public reaction (storming the emergency rooms) and more concerned about his staff’s reaction. His fear had been that national unions would use this crisis to launch a recruiting offensive (a storm). He indicated that there had already been some rumblings in other places, but they hadn’t taken hold quite yet.
As it turned out, that storm fortunately never came and the crisis ended almost as fast as it began. That said, the lessons to be learned remained. In our ever changing and growing business environment, whether in healthcare, manufacturing or finance, real leadership requires that leaders know the strength of the hull of their ships at all times and continuously work to strengthen them when the seas are smooth. That then allows the leader to guide their ship through the storm, and there will be storms, by focusing on the storm and not the seaworthiness of the organization.
The question to you is when the storm hits, will your leadership shine or will the truth show? The answer is really pretty simple, just not easy!