An Unlikely Leader Emerges
Susan had the feeling that something was terribly wrong. Something was not right. She arrived at 5 am to all the typical routines that happily brought little challenges to her life of avoidance. She had successfully engineered a smooth effortless life with virtually no opportunities for significant interaction with others, which to her meant no chances for challenges or conflict. Perfect!
Something was changing in her perfectly manicured mundane world.
As she peered out of the large picture window that was a landmark for parents to drop off their children at the day care on their way to work across the street, usually in one of the twin towers in New York City, she was startled out of her hypnotic routine by the columns of smoke and people running through the streets.
She would later remember the faces of horror and stunned panic that swept through the streets that day of 9/11/2001.
What did she need to do? The boss was not there yet. She had opened the day care that day.
Everyone was saying to stay where you were, let the emergency teams work, do not block the streets or sidewalks and be calm, everything was all right. Her co-workers said it was in the building farthest away, so no need to do anything.
Children started to cry, employees began to run around the office screaming random fears and orders. Confusion and chaos grew to a deafening pitch. What do we do now? Wait for a phone call or an order from the boss was the overriding consensus.
Then something suddenly and unexpectedly changed in her.
Her instincts told her to act quickly and decisively. She felt the children were not safe. It was just a feeling. It went against all the advice and the consensus of her fellow employees. She hesitated for a moment and thought about the risks of taking bold steps.
This was her worst nightmare.
Once she decided to take action a plan came into focus. She pulled the other employees together with a unifying phrase, “We are not safe here. We have to move the children.” They had no evacuation plan that covered this situation, so she led the team to find immediate solutions that were executed instantly.
No time to talk.
It was time to move and quickly!
All children that could not walk were placed in cribs that had wheel. Some juice boxes and snacks were thrown into their rolling day care along with some written records. They pushed the children until their bodies could go no further.
They had weaved through twelve city blocks of mass hysteria.
Their little ones cries blending with the screaming of sirens and the muffled sobs of the day care drivers.
Susan would later learn that their day care was destroyed by debris when the second plane flew into the tower across the street from them. They were not safe.
“Leaders step forward when others step back.” Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of Great Britain
A Leader Emerges
Susan never wanted to be a leader.
She avoided situations that challenged her or may have put her in a decision making position.
She was afraid of making the wrong choices and did not like the pressure of being a boss.
She enjoyed working with children because she was not threatened by them and they had to do what she said. Here’s what she said changed in a single moment:
- Her mission was more compelling than her fear
- She trusted her instincts
- A sense of urgency forced her into action
- No direction was given from the boss
- A vision of what needed to be done emerged in her mind
How strong is the connection between you and the mission of your organisation?
Have you grown leadership capability by giving guidance and authority to others?
Does your vision make sense to others?
A Bias for Action is Born!
The group snapped into action without a series of meetings or conference calls. The commitment to finding a solution followed closely behind Susan’s gut feeling appeal. They had no plan, resources or time and yet, once they committed to the action of “getting the children to safety” innovation happened quickly. Their keys to overcoming organisational paralysis and finding innovative solutions included:
- Resource Assumptions: They repurposed the cribs to become transportation and piled supplies alongside the children. It was messy and it worked!
- Chaos Planning: A leader emerged to put a vision into action at a time when very few organisations had a written plan for catastrophic terrorism.
- Just Wait a Minute: Innovation happens with action! They had a sense of urgency that moved them into finding the best solutions for an impossible scenario. As it turned out, waiting would have ended the lives of them all.
What challenges can be solved by lowering complexity and moving into action?
Where has the search for perfection ended in paralysis?
How can a genuine sense of urgency be used to ignite action and propel a project?
Resilience: Embracing the Moment of Transformation
Raku, a traditional Japanese pottery used in tea ceremonies, has evolved through the centuries to achieve its vibrant and unpredictable colorful markings by being placed directly in the fire. Each kiln fire transfers a unique and distinctive characteristic to the handmade image of the artist.
Raku’s distinctive style offers a momentary glance into the delicate balance between potential and imperfection of the artist.
Just in Time
Susan was on a collision course with life at the time of her Raku moment.
She walled herself off from the disappointment of her world through drug use, emotional eating, which had left her obese, unhappy, underemployed and bouncing between one abusive relationship to another.
Susan discovered an unexpected moment of strength and courage that would fuel the transformation of her life.
- Created a new vision for her life: she gave herself permission to envision a new future.
- Put the incomplete plan into action: Develop a bias for action and figure out details as you progress.
- Developed curiosity: Did not see herself as physically capable, yet she led a team to push cribs of children 12 city blocks. What else was possible?
- Confidence through contribution: making a real difference in the lives of others created a desire for mission driven living.
- Found a superpower: Being unstoppable was a 180 degree switch from her typical never starting or finishing a project. Now infused with a sense of confidence and contribution the real transformation would begin.
- Susan decided to help children that could not help themselves. She would be out in front of them with solutions instead of hiding behind them with sympathy.
She stopped drinking and using drugs and started creating a new vision for her life. Without all the details completely worked out, she moved from NYC to Boston, put herself through college, and graduated with a degree in child education with a specialty in therapies for children with learning disabilities.
She reached out to get help with her health, lost over 130 pounds, while completely changing her lifestyle from destructive to desirable. Her renewed confidence landed her a good job, met and married a good partner in life. She became an inspirational leader in both her new industry and the community church.
Susan later saw an overwhelming challenge that put many lives of children at risk, so she stepped up to become Executive Director of non-profit and has led several successful initiatives, while being known for getting things done and developing leaders on her teams. She is realistic about the challenges of her chosen field, yet is hopeful for successful outcomes.
Your Turn to Transform
Who is the hidden leader in your organisation?
What would it take to unleash the creativity and innovation on your team?
Where is the catalyst for change that will have the greatest contribution in your company?