On Sunday evening as Hurricane Harvey's devastation became more visible, J.J. Watt, the star football player of the Houston Texans decided to act by going on social media and encouraging people to raise money to help. He started the effort by committing to contribute $100,000 personally and set a broader goal of raising $1 million.
In the spirit of recognizing that difficult times bring out the best in humanity, he asked others to join him. After increasing his personal contribution, other contributions started to come in and just four days since his first plea, more than 100,000 people have joined the effort. As of Thursday morning, the fund had reached $10 million and is expected to keep growing. Watt's action also ignited the human spirit in other celebrities as they replicated his approach with their own fundraising efforts.
Equally impressive were the volunteers from Louisiana that formed the so called "Cajun Navy" and brought their bass boats, air boats, recreational boats and Cajun spirit to Houston to rescue people from their flooded streets and homes. Authorities and private citizens continued to go into harm's way to save residents. The stories of personal suffering and human fatalities are sad, tragic, and heartbreaking. And at the same time, some moments stand out as examples hope and inspiration that rise above the devastation of Harvey. Moments where hundreds and thousands of people take a collective stand to act and help people in trouble, often without regard for their own safety.
These are all examples of how the true leadership capacity of a person is tested during times of crisis. Here are some leadership lessons that can serve us all when he going gets tough:
- Leaders Who Keep Their Cool ---Civilians and authorities alike have an amazing ability to keep their cool during crisis. It is as if they can slow down what is going on around them, think in slow motion and make sure that they are not overwhelmed by stress -- which can turn to fear. Become the example of calm, cool and collected and this will rub off immediately on those around you.
- Leaders Who Act While Others Wait---J.J. Watt is just one example of acting while others may be waiting. In times of crisis it is more common to step back and see how it goes versus step in when no one's sure what will happen next. Bravery is often fueled by taking an immediate stand against something that is wrong, responding to those in need, or speaking up during turbulent times and setting the path forward. Be the leader who can recognize events and their significance and not shy away from the potential consequences you see.
- Leaders Who Embrace the 80% Rule---During a crisis, leaders may not have all the information that they would like to have. But a great leader knows that making an imperfect decision is much better than making no decision at all. It is common to fine-tune the decision along the way -- just as J.J. elevated his goal from $1 to $10 million along the way. The key is not to be perfect, but to get started and to let new information influence the next step.
- Leaders Who Engage In Small Acts of Kindness---It's often said that in the end, all that matters is kindness. It was clear from Harvey that small acts of kindness and mercy made a huge impact and continue to do so. The stories of relief workers offering dry socks to people, to the news reporter that put down the microphone to assist an elderly evacuee, to the volunteer gospel singer visiting various shelters to raise the spirits of people with song. As a leader, you must be able to stop, think and act with kindness when everything else seems like chaos. Your example is what others will follow.
During a crisis, you don't need the title of a leader to be one. Examples of great leadership come from the boat owner that shares that he "couldn't sit home with all the pictures of devastation and not do something about it," to the civilians rescuing people on their jet skis, and other heartwarming tales of courage, bravery, compassion, and caring where strangers and communities rallied to serve another human being in need.
I am proud of my fellow men helping their neighbors. These stories give us all hope for humanity. Tell us your stories of leading in a crisis. What are you doing to stand tall when the chips are down?