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Leadership Lessons Learned from Hurricane Harvey

“I am here to help you. What do you need?”, offered Becca.

True leadership is shown in the spontaneous actions of people to their circumstances. When people are inspired to make a difference, they become leaders and inspire others to take extraordinary actions. In this case, it was a generous woman reaching out to support families who could never repay the gifts that they were given. Further, the leaders in this case were inspirational and were never acknowledged for their contribution. Lastly, the evidence of inspired leadership was the amazing response of other people and organizations joining in to help. There were some important leadership lessons learned from the tragedy wrought by Hurrican Harvey.

This past Saturday evening, I had the chance to join some friends over dinner. All of the dinner guests were very fortunate in that none of us suffered any losses from Hurricane Harvey, which dumped up to 50” of rain on the Houston area in less than a week, producing unbelievable flooding all around our great city. But one person in our party – Becca – shared an amazing story about a neighborhood not far from her home that didn’t escape the flooding.

I want to repeat her story, because I found it so inspiring as I realized that her experience demonstrates the kind of true leadership that my partners and I are always attempting to foster with our clients.

Becca’s Story

A couple of days after Hurricane Harvey moved out of our area, Becca went to one of her favorite local restaurants and noticed that one of the waiters who had been around for 10 years was not in the building. She asked if he was ok, and learned that his neighborhood had experienced massive flooding. Since this neighborhood was not far away, she drove there and was shocked at what she witnessed. Homes had taken up to five feet of water, mud was everywhere including the streets and inside the homes, and homeowners were starting to empty their homes because everything inside had been ruined.

She found her “favorite waiter” at his home, with his wife and 2 little children, and Becca walked right up to him, looked him in the eye, and said, “I am here to help. What do you need?”

When she got his list, she went home and got on Facebook with one of her neighborhood friends and asked them to help. Later that day, she returned with other friends with 600 sandwiches for the families in the neighborhood, cases of bottled water, cleaning supplies, rakes, shovels, tools – basically everything on the list.

Becca and her team returned the next day…

And the next day…

And has been helping this neighborhood of people for over two weeks.

And her list of volunteers continues to grow, as do the supplies needed by these families to rebuild their lives.

I found her story incredibly moving, and inspiring. She looked at the people and their situation, and chose to be a leader by making a difference in the best way she could comprehend. What has been achieved as a result of her leadership has made a difference to that whole neighborhood, and far exceeded what a rational person would have predicted could have been accomplished.

Breakthrough Projects and Leadership

Last month, my partner Bob Chapman wrote an article, “Creating Organizational Transformation With Breakthrough Projects”.

In this article, he shared a number of predictable actions, based on our years of experience, that come from the teams that are leading breakthrough projects:

  • Delivering exceptional business results more quickly than expected
  • Developing transformation leaders in different levels of the business
  • Engaging employees in a way they have never been engaged before

This article was obviously written with a business in mind. Typically, an executive is looking to deliver some step-change in performance due to a variety of factors. We work with client companies to properly charter these breakthrough projects, and then work with both the Executive Sponsors of the projects as well as the Project Leaders and Project Teams, to create and execute breakthrough projects delivering unimaginable performance and results.

Ways Becca Personafied Transformational Leadership

What is it that is so inspiring about Becca and what she has been able to do? There are many comparisons between Becca and the transformational leaders that we are working to develop within all of our clients.

#1: Engagement

Becca saw a group of people who were in need of help. These people weren’t begging or crying about their fate – they were too busy getting themselves organized and cleaning up to prepare for rebuilding. She saw this group of people and asked what she could do. She then turned to people she knew and trusted and got them engaged to help her help them.

Getting people engaged is a key capability of a transformational leader. Notice that Becca could not coerce or force or command her friends to jump in with both feet. All she had was a request for help – and of course, knowing Becca, she brought her own personal brand of enthusiasm to the request. And her friends came out in full force, sharing with their own circles of friends to provide additional help and support.

This is what we have seen happen in breakthrough projects – people get engaged and start doing things that no one would have ever predicted.

#2: Creativity

After two days going to this neighborhood and working with the people there, she realized that everyone in the neighborhood needed to shower. She talked to one of her friends, asking how in the world could that be done? There was no electricity, no shower facilities (all homes had been flooded) – what to do. Her friend came up with an ingenious plan, and later that afternoon there was a home-made set of six semi-private showers. When they were installed and turned on, Becca said you could hear the whole neighborhood clap and cheer.

When breakthrough project teams get really engaged and act to deliver outcomes to which they are committed, they invariably face obstacles or roadblocks, i.e. special needs that they had not planned for. The way we coach the teams, and the way we help create the teams’ charters, helps facilitate the creativity that is often needed to be effective. We have seen time and again that when a breakthrough project team decides to get something done, their creativity to find a resolution is unstoppable. And often the resolutions they create become a transformational pillar in the construction of the whole breakthrough initiative.

For the breakthrough project leaders and teams, learning to tap into this creativity through commitment, dialogue, and engagement, becomes a way of working rather than a one off. This is one reason the work of breakthrough teams becomes a sustainable set of capabilities available to the organization for years more.

#3: Being a Leader vs Having the Title of a Leader

Becca clearly did not have a title “Neighborhood Leader”, or “Homeowners’ Association President”. She didn’t even live in the neighborhood! But she took a stand for those people – and she took a stand for herself – that she was going to make a difference. Her stand didn’t sound like “I am a leader” – she just BECAME the leader.

And in her leadership, she lost total control the first day. The engagement she got from people was so intense, that others came out of the woodwork with offers of all kinds of help, work, supplies, etc. She had to ask one volunteer to take the donated clothing somewhere other than the neighborhood, because at that time, there was nothing in the neighborhood that was dry and clean. She had no storage! So the volunteer found a local business that became the storage place for the clothes, and later, for much more in supplies.

Her leadership didn’t need control – she needed inspiration, engagement, creativity – and lots of people taking lots of action!

Breakthrough project leaders learn very similar lessons. The objective of the breakthrough project is to generate far more action and results than would be otherwise predictable. And like Becca, breakthrough project team leaders often find that the activity gets more robust and voluminous than what one person can control. This is a good sign because it means that the whole possibility of the project is becoming immersed within the organization. As the old saying goes, “Success has many fathers, failure is an orphan”. People love to play on a winning team, and just as Becca was leading a winning neighborhood effort, breakthrough project team leaders are being trained to lead winning projects.

Thank you, Becca. You are an inspirational leader!

This is a final note about something that I still cannot get over as it makes me even more inspired by Becca and what she has accomplished:

Becca was laid off from her job the week before Harvey.

So even though she was going through her own issues and challenges, she still stepped up and became a truly inspiring leader who has made, and is making, a profound difference to an entire neighborhood.

We have seen so often that people in organizations want to make a difference – they want to do something that matters. It is this spirit that we at KingChapman are in business to foster and bring out in all of our clients. We have seen people just like Becca take business initiatives on as leaders no matter where they happen to be in an organization, and with inspiration, commitment, and creativity fully engage themselves to deliver outcomes that are transformational.

 

 

If you want to learn more about what characteristics and roles leadership plays in the success of any organization, download our whitepaper: ‘Successful Strategic Execution Begins With Leaders’.

In it, you will learn:

  • The two hallmarks of an effective leader
  • The most crucial value for leaders to possess
  • The greatest contribution a leader provides
  • The most valuable ‘tool’ for a leader to wield

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