Managing the Catastrophe of a Global Pandemic

June 8, 2020
Managing the Catastrophe of 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...Emerging from the wind coffin that had buried me in the throes of the most powerful storm ever to strike the Atlantic Basin, to a post-apocalyptic landscape, I had no idea what would come of me. I’d made some significant mistakes and I didn’t know how I would find a solid foundation to regroup. I’d gone into the storm feeling confident, prepared, and now I was alone without any idea how I would provide for my most basic needs.

The following is the third in a series on leadership and resilience strategies uncovered from weathering nature, life and business' most catastrophic "storms."

How many times have you confronted the aftermath of an extreme situation and wondered, “Life as I knew it is over, so where do I go from here?”

One thing we can know for sure, as we are in the middle of a global pandemic-related lockdown, life as we knew it will certainly be different when there is a new, post-Covid-19, “normal!”

After the catastrophic event passes, we are left with the fallout. We can choose, then, how to respond. No matter what the new “normal” is, there are steps you can take to avoid dissolving into the despair of an uncertain future. In fact, the aftermath of a Category 5 event in any business or in life is the perfect opportunity to create a new “container” for you and your team, or the people around you. You get to redefine who you will be going forward, how you will work with those around you who are either a part of your team, or those who have a stake in your success, and the kind culture that you want to create going forward. I defined my own post-hurricane life as “before” and “after,” and life as Christine Perakis 2.0 is infinitely preferable. In fact, now that we are in the midst of a global “Cat 5,” I can already see change coming in my own life and look forward to seeing the 3.0 version!

Coping in the destructive wake of the Cat 5-level catastrophe is to behave as you would if you were going on an expedition. Expeditions take you into the great beyond where you may be cut off from access to necessary resources, isolated from civilization. You can only rely on those in your group to manage whatever comes up.

If you’ve ever gone offshore, climbed a mountain, camped in the wilderness, (or driven the LA freeways…) you understand that such ventures have the potential to become life-threatening. These activities allow you to abandon preconceived notions about how things worked before, the roles each person played in their previous lives. The group gets to consider and establish new rules for how they want things to go, the roles each member plays, how conflicts are resolved, etc. You will be empowered from shedding the constraints of the past, bringing only what you want, collectively, to take with you going forward. In the post-Cat 5 aftermath, we can create the world as we want it to be, refuse to tolerate whatever was perceived as “normal” in our previous life.

The ability to do this is an often-overlooked soft leadership skill. We are currently in the midst of a global pandemic. This is our chance to invite those around us to reinvent ourselves. Together, we can create a culture for success, greater safety and comfort within the group, and learn to perform really well together. A Category 5 event will bring up new tensions, which you have already seen during the lockdown. You find yourself in a new self-created “storm” as you adjust to the new normal. Depending on how this is handled, it can either be highly motivating or highly destructive. Prepare first by knowing that this is normal human behavior.

Among my fellow hurricane survivors, about a month after the storms passed, as the dangers subsided and we adjusted to life after the fact, people became quick to anger and conflicts were common. We had to band tighter together to find new ways to resolve these tensions, deepen our trust in the group and motivate ourselves to keep going to do the jobs at hand.

I find, when taking an inexperienced crew out for a day-sail and into unfamiliar situations, most are eager to learn, pitch in, take a chance to try something that they may never have done before. At sea, as often in business, we only have each other. It is nearly impossible to manage every situation on the boat (or business) alone. Each of us has to make the most of our capabilities, protect the others, and accept conflicts as a part of the norm to be handled rather than allowing them to cause further destruction.

A great team can sail through any Cat 5 event to thrive. We don’t have to be defined by previous norms or roles. We can create a culture where everyone steps forward to do their best, understanding that conflict is normal. In that environment, diversity of opinions is welcomed, promoted and encouraged, and teamwork is valued over the individual. The greater the diversity in the team, the greater the outcomes, whether you are climbing Mount Everest, sailing to a distant port or navigating the work week.

We don’t always have the luxury of setting up “expedition rules” in advance to prepare for the storm. These practices can also manage the catastrophe after the catastrophe. The team can still come together to create the culture that everyone desires, where each member has a voice that is respected, where conflicts are a natural part of the norm and managed easily. In the aftermath of the Cat 5 event, we can create a stronger team, a more diverse and cohesive culture and, really, a whole new world in which to thrive.


- Christine Perakis, author of The Resilient Leader

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