As I have watched the news over the past week and witnessed the devastating flooding taking place in the Houston area, I find myself consumed with the events taking place. My heart goes out to the people and families having to be rescued off of their rooftops due the flooding. I saw the pictures of the man trying to break through the ceiling of his attack to gain access to the roof as water was rising in the attic. I can’t imagine what that father was going through as he worked those boards apart as his family stood in rising water in that attic. Watching the countless people clinging to their children and pets as they tried to make their way to safety and ultimately to a shelter was definitely a picture that brings a degree of reality to any situation. The one interview that I will never forget though, is the man from Texas City that brought his boat to Houston. When the reporter asked him what he and his buddy were doing intentionally coming into this scene of devastation, his reply was “There are people here that need help. We are going to save some lives today”.
Now I don’t know about you, but I love everything about that comment. I hope that if ever put into that situation, that I would respond in that manner.
Many of us may never be in that situation; however, there’s a lot to learn from his comments and resulting actions.
1. Actions like this one seldom resonate from a momentary emotional experience. They had plenty of time driving through the heavy rain to Houston for that emotion to wear off. This level of conviction comes from a core set of values, more times than not, that values other people over self. That’s what true leadership is all about. It’s about sincerely looking out for the best interest of those we are responsible for. It’s about making decisions and taking actions that will be in the best long term interest of those we lead. It’s not about making things easy. It’s not about being popular with those we lead. It’s not about looking out for our personal interests. It is about caring enough about the people that we will direct, demand, and sacrifice what needs to be done for the best interest of the people being led.
2. At some point, these two guys made a decision to leave their homes and do the uncomfortable. It would have been much easier to stay home, stay dry, and watch this scene play out on television. Leaders don’t sit on the sidelines watching the game play out either. When things aren’t going well, leaders need to be present more than ever. When times are tough, leaders need to be in the action. If our facility is struggling in an area, leaders need to be directly involved in the problem solving efforts and stay on it until the matters are resolved. It may be tempting to stay in that office and hope someone else figures things out. It may be tempting to avoid that customer visit that needs to be made. It may be tough to go out there at midnight and see firsthand what’s going on. It may even be tough to have that challenging conversation. But you know what, leaders take action and go to an issue and don’t avoid it.
3. These two guys didn’t focus on what they didn’t have, they focused on what they did have. They had a boat. They may not be able to save or provide for everyone, but they could use their one boat and get as many people to safety as they could. It is very easy for us to focus on what we don’t have, what our limitations are, and just decide to be average. These two guys didn’t have the best piece of equipment for the task at hand, but it would work. Leaders take what they have and get the most out of it. They engage their people and get more from their “assets” than just those in typical supervisory or manager roles do. Leaders take those position assignments and influence people to go beyond “just getting by”. They truly lead people to accomplish things that otherwise would not be possible without engaging leadership that has a core value of people first and drives success for their collective benefit.
4. I have never seen a follow up interview with either of these guys, but I suspect they made more than one trip into those flooded areas. I doubt they had a lot of time to do many interviews and seriously doubt that they were there seeking public attention. As the reporter asked the original questions, you could sure get a sense that he/they were more interested in getting that boat in the water and “getting to those people in need”. Similarly, leadership is not a self-serving, attention getting focus. Leaders focus on others and direct attention away from themselves. Leaders take responsibility when things go wrong and direct the praise to others when successes are achieved. It always goes back to the core values of a leader.
5. We may never know how successful these guys were or what they sacrificed to be there to help. There’s no doubt that anyone involved in leading others will sacrifice something at some point. There’s just no way of getting around it. We can define success a lot of different ways. For any leader, I would suggest that we focus on the opportunity at hand and strive to lead in a way that reaches the potential for the group. For whatever we are leading, we take the resources and people available to us, make decisions in the long term best interest of the people, and achieve our potential (be as good as we can be in whatever is important).
Two guys with a boat; going to save some lives. There’s a lot to learn there.