In October 2023, the Vista team was in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico for a bi-annual mastermind meeting when Hurricane Norma graced us with her presence. While I would not willingly subject others to the challenges we encountered, the experience yielded valuable insights applicable to the realm of leadership. In the face of unexpected trials, we often discover our real strength and resilience. These challenging situations can be seen as nature’s training ground, where we are put to the test, stripped of our daily comforts and routines, and forced to adapt. Such experiences, while uncomfortable and sometimes frightening, often bestow upon us the most profound lessons that stay with us for the rest of our lives. It’s a paradox, really — how adversity can spur personal growth and leadership development. When we’re thrust into an unpredictable storm, we must find ways to navigate through it, just as we did in the literal one that October. As the saying goes, every experience offers a lesson. This blog is not just about our encounter with Hurricane Norma; it’s about the unexpected places and surprising circumstances from which we find growth and learn lessons about life and leadership.
The Dilemma: Do I Stay or Do I Go?
On Wednesday, a couple of days before Norma made landfall, I became aware that the location of our stay was within the forecasted path of the storm. Upon this realization, I took the initiative to independently gather more information regarding the severity of the impending threat. However, the messages I received were conflicting, adding complexity to the decision-making process.
Leadership Lesson: Decisive action or strategic non-action is paramount in navigating complex situations. Continuously reassess the situation and, as new information emerges, be prepared to adjust the course of action accordingly. In this case, the decision to stay or evacuate was not clear-cut and required constant evaluation of changing circumstances. As leaders, we must be prepared to make difficult decisions in the face of uncertainty and trust our instincts while being open to new information.
Avoiding the Lull: The Calm Before the Storm
On Thursday morning, as we waited for Norma’s arrival, there was an eerie calmness in the air. The ocean was still, and the winds were manageable, giving us a false sense of security. We used this time to prepare our team and property for potential damage and created a contingency plan in case we needed to evacuate. Little did we know that this brief period of calmness would be followed by relentless wind and rain that would wreak havoc on our surroundings.
Leadership Lesson: It’s crucial to be proactive and prepare for the worst-case scenario, even when everything seems calm and under control. When faced with a potential crisis, leaders must take charge and create a plan of action to mitigate risk. This requires foresight, teamwork, and quick decision-making skills.
Preparedness: Facing the Storm Head-On
On Friday, a noticeable increase in wind speed and the gradual darkening of the sky occurred. The resort initiated precautionary measures, moving outdoor furniture, fastening light fixtures, covering windows, and reducing personpower to a skeleton crew. Hurricane Norma was predicted to be a category 3 storm. The resort was engineered to withstand up to a category 5 storm, so this mitigated concerns about the necessity of relocation.
Leadership Lesson: Effective leadership in crises relies on proactive preparedness. Law firms need to identify potential threats – events like cybersecurity risks, natural disasters, and physical harm. Ask yourself: are you adequately prepared for these challenges? Avoid the trap of assuming, “It won’t happen to us.”
Seeking Guidance: A Different Perspective
Unable to find a local news outlet to help me navigate the situation and struggling with the Weather Channel app that was covering a few different storms, I phoned a friend, my teammate Pam Travis. She lives on the east coast of North Carolina, so she’s intimately familiar with hurricane weather conditions. She was my north star through all of this, providing insights into what I was observing and offering guidance for what I should expect as the storm unfolded. The most comforting news she delivered was that the storm had weakened to a category 1.
Leadership Lesson: Seek guidance and support from a colleague or mentor when navigating challenging or unfamiliar situations. It is even better if they have lived through a similar situation before. Their perspective can be invaluable and provide a sense of direction when we feel lost or overwhelmed. As leaders, it’s essential to recognize that we don’t have all the answers, and seeking guidance is a sign of strength, not weakness.
Stepping Up: Embracing the Small Stuff
As anticipated, the on-site restaurants were closed, but room service was still offered with a modified menu. When I ordered breakfast, I anticipated a brief and transactional delivery experience. However, the reality exceeded expectations as a composed team member delivered my food, meticulously unpacked it on the table, and poured my coffee. They provided a brief but reassuring calmness and grounding to my day, even providing comforting assurances that the resort had been through this before and was prepared and confident. This encounter emphasized the importance of maintaining composure in challenging situations.
Leadership Lesson: Even during challenging times, it’s important to uphold unwavering customer service standards. Small gestures, like the one from the room service team member, can have a significant impact on customers and provide them with a sense of normalcy amidst the chaos. As leaders, we must set an example for our team by remaining calm, composed, and focused even in the face of adversity. Our actions influence those around us and can make all the difference in how a situation is perceived.
Stay Moving: Redefining Idleness
Lingering in a state of idleness tends to usher in unwarranted concerns. Especially in a chaotic or scary situation, sitting still can simply heighten the fear. Recognizing this tendency, I redirected my focus by engaging in activities such as organizing my belongings, praying, and calling my family.
Leadership Lesson: The ability to redirect focus and engage in positive actions during challenging times not only enhances personal well-being but also sets a productive example for others to follow. As leaders, it’s essential to stay active and focus on the tasks at hand, even when faced with uncertainty. This mindset can be contagious and inspire others to do the same, creating a sense of productivity and progress even in difficult situations.
The Power of Connection: Finding Thanks in the Storm
Throughout the storm, my team maintained a group text, lightening the weight of Mother Nature’s might. We bunked together in rooms, spent quality time connecting, and found ways to laugh in the rain. We shared the struggles of minimal generator power, oppressive heat, leaky ceilings, and barely masked fear during the worst of the rattling wind and unrelenting rain. We provided the listening ear, the ready laugh, and the welcome distraction, and our solidarity served to center me. We know this — we’re better together.
Leadership Lesson: Your circle of influence matters! The support and connection within a team can significantly impact resilience. As leaders, it’s essential to foster a sense of camaraderie and connection within our teams because when faced with challenges, we are stronger together. Taking the time to build strong relationships and cultivate a positive team dynamic can make all the difference in how we face and overcome adversity.
The Aftermath: Picking Up the Pieces
In the early hours of Saturday morning, Hurricane Norma passed over us with full force. As the storm subsided, we emerged from our shelters to assess the damage. We found that we were lucky compared to some of our neighboring resorts, and everyone was safe. We were all able to secure flights that would leave the next day. Sometimes, survival can be thrilling.
Leadership Lesson: The true test of leadership comes in the aftermath of a crisis. It’s essential to remain calm and focused, assess the situation objectively, and work with your team to rebuild and recover. As leaders, it’s crucial to remain resilient and inspire resilience in others during challenging times. Adversity can bring out the best in individuals and teams, providing opportunities for growth and learning.
Continuing the Journey: Lessons Learned
The experience of facing Hurricane Norma taught us valuable lessons about leadership in crisis situations. After returning home, it took my nervous system a good week to find its equilibrium. Owning a beach house has officially been crossed off my dream home list, but in its place, I’ve gained a deeper appreciation and newfound humility toward the vast nature of the ocean.
In the face of uncertainty and challenges, leaders who embody these lessons not only guide their teams through storms but also inspire them to emerge stronger on the other side. Just as the eye of a hurricane is a temporary respite, effective leadership provides a stable center from which teams can find strength and direction, no matter what challenges come their way.