Leading Through Chaos

Well that escalated quickly…. Just a few short months ago, we were operating in an environment of relative calm, and then, in the blink of an eye, the clouds rolled in, the winds picked up, and before you could find cover, the tornado ripped through and destroyed everything in its path.

As an HR professional, we thrive on both strategic and contingency planning. Whether it be finding talent, training talent, engaging talent, or simply making sure everyone is safe and healthy, we always have a plan - until now. I’m sure I speak for many of you when I say, we had no idea how to plan for something of this magnitude.

In theory, the mission was simple - keep employees safe and informed with accurate information, all while maintaining business continuity. The execution however, was much more difficult. We found ourselves scrambling to become experts in a field where we had limited experience. And the torrential rain of information flooding social media, radio, television, and print, only made our job of leading through this time of uncertainty and chaos that much more of a challenge.

So, first things first, secure the (communication) floodgates. If we were going to get through this, we needed to turn this rapid river into a gentle stream. That meant trying to create one source of communication; easier said than done. The “water” was raging, employees were beginning to panic, and my endeavor to toss out life preservers, while the rest of the leadership team stacked sandbags, wasn’t working. We needed to do more. We needed to secure shelter.

We quickly identified employees that could work remotely. We created policies, procedures, and implemented new technologies. With office and administrative staff now working from home safely, we could focus our attention on making certain our frontline workers were also safe. We battened down the hatches, allowing only essential workers in the building. We prioritized our needs versus our wants. Then it was time to divide and conquer - we split up shifts and breaks, created clean-up crews, communicated in small groups, and worked tirelessly to ensure our little fortress would withstand the storm.

Much to our amazement, it was working. Business was still steady, our employees were healthy, and the intensity of fear we all once felt was beginning to dissipate and become more like white noise. Then suddenly, it became eerily quiet. The pounding rain and gusting winds just stopped, but only for a moment. We realized that the tornado hadn’t yet completely passed us, we were just in the eye.

It was gut check time. We knew what was coming. We knew there were others out there that wouldn’t survive; the damage just too great to recover. We had to dig deep into our core [values], find our strength [our people], and seek out our structurally sound foundation [our quality and excellence] to carry us through to the other side.

It gets dark again, and the glass starts to shatter. We can hear the popping of nails and the cracking of wood. Before our eyes, we watch what we’ve all worked so hard for begin to break away. But not all is lost; we still have a roof over our head. And just as quickly as it started, it moves past us. Time to assess the damage.

We are still beneath the clouds, but we can see the rays of sunshine in the distance. Yes, our little fortress has sustained some damage. There are things we have lost, and things we will need to rebuild. But miraculously, all of our employees have been spared. There are no causalities, no injuries. We are all safe.

Yes, times of chaos are scary. Conditions and people become unpredictable. But we must adapt and overcome. We can learn so much about ourselves and others as the instinctual “fight or flight” response emerges. Leaders will stand up and fight. Fight to maintain the safety of those around them. Fight to motivate others to carry on. And fight to maintain the integrity of what is right.

You must remind yourself, that yes, sometimes, we fall, we break, and we fail; but then, we rise, we heal, and we overcome. That is why, you must fight. Because if you want to reach the end of the rainbow, you can’t just close your eyes and endure the storm; you must be the storm.

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