Leadership in a Global Pandemic

May 21, 2020
Leadership in a Global Pandemic

A 2-Time Category 5 hurricane survivor and serial entrepreneur shares her experiences and life lessons learned to help us all weather the extreme situations in our lives ...in the hours and days following the first of two monster storms left me no idea of what to do next. As a professional boat captain and lifelong sailor, a navigator of businesses, boats and people, guiding them to safely reach their destinations for a couple of decades, I was now cut off from my global connections and left wondering, “what now?”

When facing an out-of-control situation, how many times have you thought, “I have no idea what to do next?” After the first hurricane passed, I was one of many victims amid the rubble. I had no idea what would come next. I sure wasn’t thinking strategically! As of the writing of this post, we are in the midst of a global pandemic and half the world’s population is under quarantine, uncertain when the threat will diminish. It’s times like these when many of us may think that, with nowhere to go, no one to see, “there is nothing that I can do.”

With my home destroyed and no transport off the island, and without a pre-defined role in my community, I felt paralyzed at first. In the aftermath of any Category 5 event, even without a pre-designated role, opportunities to step forward will appear if we stay alert. In doing so, I discovered that there were things that I could do that would make a difference in the community, would help me focus and alleviate the powerlessness and the loneliness that I felt in the immediate aftermath.

Outdoor wilderness leadership strategies offer four key roles for the Category 5 situation – designated leadership, peer leadership, self-leadership and active followership. We can all fill any or all of these roles in uncertain times. Finding your place when circumstances are out of control will ground you and give you purpose.

In the Covid 19 pandemic, our compliance with the quarantine rules is an example of active followership – those of us symptom-free who keep our “social distance” for the health, safety and protection of others is a contribution to our community by, literally, doing nothing.

In a yacht-race, the tactician is in charge, making decisions, with or without input. Winning teams have mastered these leadership roles by not only performing their own tasks with competency and efficiency, but also understanding what the other jobs are. Great team members stay constantly vigilant for changes in conditions, are ready to step in before an emergency overwhelms the crew, and keep the boat on course by their quick action and impeccable execution. Once, during the 5-minute start sequence of a long-distance race, our boat lost two different sails to a blow out within 4 minutes. Quick response on the part of every team member enabled the boat to get off the starting line and continue the race. These leaders will improve performance in any enterprise or life situation. A good self-leader is aware of the overall landscape at all times and takes on whatever responsibilities are within their power to not add to the burden of others.

The natural progression for excellent self-leaders is to become a peer leader, to step forward in service to those around them. After the first hurricane destroyed my home, and in anticipation of the next one coming two weeks later, I took shelter with and began to assist the salvage company owner and crew who were working nonstop, restoring order to the marina where 300 vessels had been destroyed. Having had no prior experience, I researched and went about the business of importing heavy equipment, navigating the challenges to bring much-needed machinery to the hurricane-ravaged island.

Finally, with transportation and intermittent telecoms, I was connected to a nascent volunteer organization to liaise with the British Military to deliver geo-map location data of conditions on the ground. I also facilitated the effort to bring international volunteer medical personnel on-island to assist with recovery. These assignments were offered to me because I was open, willing and available. Prior to that, I had no official role within the government or any volunteer organization, nor would I have known how to contribute via any formal channels. Sometimes designated leadership is available simply because a vacuum was created. During the Covid 19 pandemic, with schools shut down, the Red Cross organized food service for school children who depended on school meals for nutrition. Volunteering to serve meals to children provides a much-needed service that contributes to the well-being of the entire community.

Choosing a Category 5 leadership role in any catastrophic situation, whether it’s a global pandemic, a natural disaster, a cash-strapped business or anything in between, will get you focused and acting with a purpose. And often it doesn’t even require any previous training or experience. All that is required in these situations is that we are willing and mindful of the evolving circumstances, to figure out what’s needed. That’s how we discover what we are capable of in tumultuous times.

In the immortal words of the great Arthur Ashe,

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

In this continuing series, I share with you some key strategies to weather any Category 5 event, both during and in the aftermath, to not only lessen the impact, but to come through thriving. These are the "7 Barometers of Resilience" that I introduce in my upcoming book, The Resilient Leader: Life-Changing Strategies to Overcome Today's Turmoil and Tomorrow's Uncertainty.

More to come...


- Christine Perakis, author of the The Resilient Leader

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