This past week saw Fiona smash into the far eastern parts of Canada. We all watched in fearful anticipation as it tore through the lands further south in the days before it arrived on Canada’s east coast, so we all knew it was coming.
Like with other storms and hurricanes that have occurred previously, citizens and emergency responders all knew what was coming and knew that preparation was key, but they also knew that there was likely to be significant damage and disruption to lives over the course of the next weeks, months, and sometimes years. Direct damage from wind and water was a significant problem, as was whatever was being carried by that wind and water.
I live on the prairies, where tropical storms never reach; however, we do get tornadoes from time to time, and we get significant hail events and the parched earth that comes with a prolonged drought. We seem to be experiencing this severe weather much more regularly now than we did in the past. No matter the cause of the interruptions to lives and livelihoods, local governments are pretty much always the first on scene. They arrive in emergency vehicles, then with mental health support, and sometimes with monetary support as well. The local government remains on scene long after the specific crisis has passed, and people are trying to piece their homes and businesses back together.
It takes a rare blend of skills to be someone who can lead through this type of natural crisis. Following the event, it often requires a different set of skills to undertake the journey to recovery. The confident leader can be visibly seen taking charge, being in front speaking confident and comforting words even as that individual may be suffering the same type of loss as everyone else. That person has the critical ability to focus on minimizing the impact of the crisis and preparing the way for recovery to begin.
Even if that person is not confident behind his or her eyes, she or he needs to show confidence and focus in support of the people that want to be comforted. These leaders need to be advocates for the people as they interact with emergency services while understanding that those first responders need room to work. It’s a fine balance that nobody wants to have to take, but which is thrust upon leaders from time to time.
Once the blizzard, the flood, or the storm has wrought its wrath, the recovery must begin quickly and safely. The leader must transition from crisis manager – command and control – into a comforter. These leaders have a good idea of how long it will take to emerge and how much effort that will take.
Behind the scenes are managers who provide timely and excellent advice. Who urge elected leaders to train and practice for the eventuality that we are seeing on the east coast this week. Emergency Operations Centres are established, stocked, and staffed for when they are needed. Relationships with other orders of government, utility companies, and even with the military have been forged and strengthened over the years for the times they are needed.
Local government, indeed all orders of government, are fundamentally human endeavours that are created to ‘mind the shop’ between elections. The best leaders, whether elected or appointed, know their roles well, can subjugate their egos to the greater good, and provide significant help to those who need it when they need it.
What sort of examples have you seen of leaders who have excelled during the crisis but who struggle through the recovery – or vice versa?
As always, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.