Reflections on leadership, revealed through Hurricane Harvey

How you lead in your personal life matters. You are not two separate beings – one “work being,” consciously channeling all of the leadership skills you’ve been taught; the other, your “home being,” where conscious leadership stays in your briefcase to be brought out each Monday morning.

I am particularly struck by the absence of this potential dichotomy as I watch what is happening in Houston this week after Hurricane Harvey devastated the area and many of the people in it.

Leaders are empathetic – I have heard from some people that empathy is for the weak or soft. I disagree. Empathy is about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, trying to understand their point of view. As we watched this last week, complete strangers risked their own well-being to rescue those who were trapped in their homes. We watched empathy translated into action.

How do you practice empathy in the workplace? Do you try to understand the point of view or emotion of a colleague before dismissing said emotion or passing judgment? Are you willing to put yourself in their shoes?

Leaders act – Just as those empathetic Houstonians took action, leaders act when they see a need.  Whether it is with a team member who is struggling with a project or a business problem that the leader can solve, leaders are not afraid to step up and into a challenging or previously unaddressed problem.

When do you act? Do you wait until you are asked or “delegated to” or do you recognize a problem and tackle it with the necessary resources? Are you willing to step up to a challenge?

Leaders provide resources – In Houston this week, resources included a bed to sleep in, a meal, or a flatbed truck on which to load musty, wet household goods. As a leader, are you ensuring that your team has the resources they need? Are they fully trained and do they have the necessary tools to do their job?

How do you ensure people have the resources they need? Do you assume they’ll figure it out or do you ask what they need before leaving them to the task?

Leaders follow through – After Harvey, I heard amazing stories about the commitment of the doctors and all of the local hospital staff members to meet the expectations of the populace. These committed leaders knew their jobs at every level and they followed through, even in the harshest of environments. As a leader, do you do what you say you are going to do? Do you role model commitment and engagement?

What does follow through look like for you? Do you do what you say you’ll do and expect the same from others? How do you set and hold the job expectations?

As I watch as people are dealing with every hardship imaginable in Houston and across the world, I am struck by the fact that leadership happens at every level, in every place. It is not about title or status or age or income. Instead, leadership is ultimately about being clear on your purpose. That purpose drives you – to exhibit empathy in the moment, to take action when needed or when no one else can or will, to ensure people have what they need, and to be true to your word.

True leadership is as simple…and as hard as that.

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