Hunkered Down

With the east coast recovering from the overnight devastation of Hurricane Sandy, I have much compassion for residents’ plight. Prior to moving to Houston in 1998, I seldom thought about hurricanes. Since then we’ve dealt with three massive storms.

In June 2000, Tropical Storm Allison stalled and dumped 35 inches of rain – flooding downtown and a major highway. The only non-hurricane to have its name retired did an estimated $5.5 billion in damage.

In September 2005, just four weeks after Katrina devastated Louisiana, Cat 3 Rita took dead aim at Houston, then veered off to the east at the last minute. Two days prior, we were part of the largest evacuation in US history – three million people. Our normal four-hour journey to Dallas took 12. Friends left an hour after us and were in their car for 20 hours. We came home when the power returned five days later… and everything looked the same.

From 2-8 a.m. on the early morning of September 13, 2008, our family and dog gathered in a small interior bathroom to ride out Hurricane Ike. When it passed, I walked into the cul de sac to speak with neighbors, happy all seemed well. They pointed behind me to the home next to ours. It was split in half by a fallen tree. Rain returned a few hours later and ruined the house. The residents didn’t return for 14 months. In all, Ike left 2.3 million people without power… for up to three weeks. It caused $19.3 billion in destruction.

Hurricanes are one of nature’s most brutal forces. Without experiencing the fear, flooding and feelings of those involved, it’s hard to have sympathy – despite seeing the sad pictures on the news today. Thousands of your fellow citizens are dealing with a tremendous burden. Spare a moment to think of them. If you’re a believer, say a prayer. If you have spare dollars, send a few their way via Red Cross. Someday, you may be in need of a similar act of kindness. When you are, someone will be there. This is a great opportunity to pay it forward.


Understanding Self

One piece of the executive coaching program I deliver to senior leaders involves conducting feedback interviews with superiors, peers and direct reports. Everything is anonymous – and as a trained journalist I tend to induce candid remarks that serve as valuable data during the coaching engagement. After speaking to 10-12 people, I transcribe comments then sit with a client to review others’ perceptions one by one.

Before these debriefing sessions, I give clients a ‘what to expect when you receive feedback’ document to help them prepare for hearing views about their performance and style. The range of emotional reactions is described as the SARAH Cycle: Surprise, Annoyance, Resistance, Acceptance, Hope. Much like the five stages of grief (DABDA) are non-linear, clients flow back and forth among SARAH before becoming open to change.

“I didn’t realize…” is an oft-heard response during a debriefing. When we finish, I tell a client to put the report away for a week and let some time pass. That allows the emotional response to dissipate and places a client in a much better mindset to work on changing what she desires. Interestingly, about half the people – and I’ve presented at least 50 of these over the years – tell me during our next session they read everything again that night. Then they showed the report to their significant other. Then they kicked the dog. (Just kidding about one of those.)

Yet, with all the angst that comes with having me ask, “What do you think about _____?” clients discover this is one of most important steps in growing into a stronger leader. If you’re looking to build on your strengths and improve areas where you’re challenged, have someone ask about you.


Backdoor Plans

Early this Monday morning I went through my daily exercise and stretching routine, then grabbed my swimsuit to change and head to the YMCA for my thrice-weekly hour in the pool. Glancing at my trunks, I noticed a three-inch long hole in the seam. Since I only keep one swimsuit on hand, I was disappointed there would be no swimming today. (My wife says I’ve become obsessed with the sport since taking it up two years ago… and I think she’s fairly accurate in that assessment.)

Suddenly, I sensed a tremendous surge of embarrassment flowing through my body, as it occurred to me that when I last swam, there is a strong possibility the lifeguards had a – how shall I say this? – unique view of my backside. Increasing that overwhelming feeling was the fact there is always an exercise class of older ladies occurring in the deep end while I swim. Wondering what they might have seen when I toweled off afterward added to my stress.

Having had a few minutes to think about this, it now seems rather humorous. There is a strong possibility no one noticed, and, if some did, well, it gave them a good laugh for a few minutes… or at least something to talk about when I left. (FYI: I always put on a pair of shorts over my swimsuit for the walk into and out of the Y, so get that vision out of your mind.)

Of course, there is a great lesson to be learned here. In everything you do, it’s important to ‘take a pause’ every so often and assess your organization – from top to bottom. You’ll be more successful by setting aside your routine for awhile to take a close look at the moving parts. That’s a much better approach than simply assuming everything is going along swimmingly.