From the Chief’s Corner: When Leadership Matters Most...

Chief Alan Perdue

Posted on March 24, 2020

With many years of service in public safety, I have witnessed and been a part of many forms of crisis. Whether natural or man-made, a disaster can have a profound impact on the daily lives of those effected. Today’s environment of uncertainty with COVID 19 is very significant, and it brings back some vivid memories of the initial days following the events of 9/11.

Those memories include many hours spent planning and preparing for what was often referred to as the “unknown” and the “new normal.” We had no idea what that really meant, but we knew the world as we had known it would change. The uncertainty of what was to come would impact not only the lives of first responders, but the lives of all Americans. We didn’t have time to do much reflection. It was time to move forward, develop plans, procedures, secure proper equipment, train personnel, etc. 

But I do remember hearing varying, often ill-informed, opinions, comments and speculation about what would happen and what might happen, much of which grew from the fear of the unknown.  

As we face a new unknown today associated with COVID 19, I’m hearing a lot of similar chatter (as I call it). I’m a facts-and-data guy, and to me that – not opinion – is what is important when facing adversity. With all that is going on in the world today, and too many people downplaying or flat-out ignoring the severity of the life-threatening pandemic we are facing, I thought about the phrase “Turning a Blind Eye.” I am sure many of you have heard the phrase, but have you ever thought about its actual meaning or origin? Well, the phrase is often used to refer to a willful refusal to acknowledge a particular reality.

According to research the phrase “turn a blind eye” is often attributed to a legendary period in the distinguished career of the British naval hero Admiral Horatio Nelson. During the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801, Nelson’s ships were pitted against a large Danish-Norwegian fleet, which most certainly was a trying time for both Nelson and his team. As I’m sure you’re aware, there were no radios for communications between ships, so Naval orders were transmitted via a system of signal flags.

When Nelson’s more conservative superior officer flagged for him to discontinue action in the face of adversity, the one-eyed Nelson supposedly brought his telescope to his bad eye and blithely proclaimed, “I really do not see the signal.” He went on with his mission and scored a decisive victory.  Based on his actions, Nelson was later appointed Commander-in-Chief of the fleet following the battle. 

“So, what can the Safer Buildings Coalition and its members learn from past events like 9/11 and Admiral Nelson? That in the face of uncertainty, staying attentive and focused on our mission is paramount.”

In times of crisis and adversity, I often lean on Romans 13:12 which says, “The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.” In other words, It’s Better to Light a Candle Than to Curse the Darkness.

The lessons we learn from encountering the fear of the unknown are often what transforms good leaders into great ones. Leaders who have experienced adversity develop the resilience and tenacity to succeed when others simply give up. As everyone leads their teams through these next few weeks and months it is important that we factor in the following:

  • First and foremost, take care of your team(s).
  • Encourage open, honest and transparent discussion that provides for a productive outcome.
  • Develop a realistic long-term and short-term strategy and monitor your progress.
  • Place your focus on what you can control. We cannot control certain events; we can only control how we react to them.

During an event such as the one we are currently all facing, great leaders put their negative feelings aside and present a strong, confident and united front to ensure their teams achieve their highest potential. It has often been said that adversity is the true test of leadership. Well, as we move through these unprecedented times and challenges together, the unknown affords us the opportunity to develop new skill sets, processes and knowledge. These enhancements will help us build resilient teams that can significantly impact our future successes. 

“During an event such as the one we are currently all facing, great leaders put their negative feelings aside and present a strong, confident and united front to ensure their teams achieve their highest potential.”

In closing, as with many other significant events that have taken place in our world, please know that today’s serious pandemic is not permanent. Remember the Hebrew saying, “Gam ze ya’avor,” which means, “This, too, shall pass.” Yes, momentous challenges are before us like never before and the world as we know it today will be different in the future. However, we as a people are strong and committed and we will be even stronger for having gone through these trying times. COVID 19 is a real and serious threat and I pray for each one of you, your families and your organizations, all those impacted by the virus and especially those first responders, nurses, doctors, and so many others who are on the front lines every day meeting the needs of their respective communities.  

Leaders must continue to have vision at all times because that vision is paramount to moving forward. When this crisis is over and it will be, remember Challenged Organizations Value Innovation & Determination...