Reclaiming The Island

Sanibel Island, Florida. Until two weeks ago, you may not have heard of this tropical paradise that I have often referred to as “my happy place.” Then on September 28, this little slice of heaven was ravaged by hurricane Ian, which hit with an intensity just 5 mph short of being considered a Cat 5. Major pieces of the three-mile causeway that connected Sanibel and Captiva islands to the mainland were swept away. Total gut punch. And yet I heard yesterday, just shy of two weeks after the devastation, trucks were traveling across the temporarily reconstructed causeway. (Think about it . . . how long do bridge projects usually take in your area?) That takes a whole lot of people committed to reclaiming the island.

Your organization could be hit by a “hurricane” just as easily as Sanibel Island. You could be devastated by variables totally outside your control that could irrevocably change the landscape over which you and your team have toiled. You followed all the rules. Everything was going so well. Just a few days before, it looked like you would escape the brunt of the storm. And then the winds and currents changed, and all you could do was prepare as best you could for the storm to make landfall. Pandemic. Loss of a major customer. Illness. Some other unpredictable catastrophy. There are a myriad of external circumstances that even the best leaders simply can’t control. But here’s the good news. There are also a host of internal steps you can take to help your organization weather the unforeseen storms and, if necessary, reclaim the island.

Start with culture.

While many see culture as the soft stuff that is difficult to measure (true), it is also the glue that will hold your organization together in difficult times. Do your people feel supported and cared about? Do they take pride in being part of your organization . . . do they want to wear the shirt? While leaders don’t get to determine the culture (your people do) you can take steps to positively influence it. Not sure how? Ask your people. They have lots of ideas.

Reinforce with trust.

Do you give your people enough autonomy to make decisions, to test a strategy and refine as needed? Are staff rewarded for trying something new, even if it doesn’t go exactly as planned, or are they criticized for “failing”. People who feel trusted to make decisions in the best interest of the organization will do just that, in good times and in bad. They become your calvary ready to respond to unexpected developments as they unfold.

Succeed with teams.

Do you truly have teams in your organization, or merely groups of people who meet and call themselves that? Teams include people with different skills sets and perspectives, who don’t always agree, but who are committed to the greater good. It is teams that do the heavy lifting, collectively working toward the identified target. The stronger the team, the greater the impact. What are you doing now, while the sun is shining, to strengthen your teams?

And that’s the trick of it . . . if you wait until the crisis hits to start worrying about culture, trust and teams, it is too late. What if you took one specific action each day, in each of these areas? You’d be prepared if you ever have to reclaim the island.

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