This is a post I started a couple weeks ago, then I let it sit.
Since yesterday was the 32nd anniversary of America’s worst commercial nuclear accident (inside the Unit Two reactor at the Three Mile Island plant near
Middletown, Pa.), it seems appropriate to finish it now.
The recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan are terrible twin disasters and this post isn’t meant to downplay the human and economic losses from this event. While the aftermath of the earthquake is still in the news, the biggest story from Japan now is the challenges with the nuclear plants.
When I first started this post, the happenings at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant were at the very top of the news. I was on vacation and I still couldn’t ignore it. Somehow all of us as civilians were supposed to learn about and understand the threats of what was happening and could happen in the those reactors.
And the frenzy that was being created was, just that, a frenzy (especially for those of us a half a world away).
Had I completed this post on March 17, when I started it, perspective would have been harder to gain (for me and you), because of … well … the frenzy.
I am not a nuclear engineer and not an expert on radiation or its effects, but I believe in this story there is a large leadership lesson.
Let me explain.
For the past several years there has been growing sentiment for increasing the number of nuclear power plants in the United States. There are, after all, far more plants in other parts of the world than in the United States, the technology has continued to improve – both in safety and in reduced cost. The arguments for nuclear power are many – the biggest being how green the energy is – no carbon emissions at all!
But you won’t find that conversation in the news today.
In fact, today there are calls to further regulate and even consider closing existing nuclear power plants in this country.
Yes, before the the earthquake, people cited potential problems, like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. But two weeks ago? Reason was nearly out the window, and today, there still seems to be major shifts in public (largely uninformed) opinion about nuclear energy.
Which is where the leadership lessons come in.
If you comb through the news, listening and reading with a critical ear and eye, you get a more balanced view of what is going on in Japan. Devastating? Of course. Dangerous? To be sure. Chernobyl again (or worse)? Almost assuredly not.
In times of uncertainty or even crisis, as leaders we must keep a perspective and be the voice of reason with our teams. In your own organizational situations that seem overwhelming to those around you, you will serve them as their leader by:
- Helping people breathe again
- Helping people find the facts
- Helping people gain perspective
- Allowing people to be heard – including acknowledging their fears and concerns
- Helping people continue to see the vision – in spite of and in light of their fears and concerns
- Determining what actions must be taken (and what doesn’t need to be done)
- And yes, learning from the crisis to avoid it or minimize the risks for the future
This may be easier to read now that it would have been two weeks ago when I began the post, but the truth is, I should have finished it then. As a leader the time for the communication is during the fray, not later, when everyone has gained some perspective.
As leaders we cannot wait – we must communicate, listen and lead in the moment, not wait – it is our role and duty.
Waiting two weeks has changed my thinking about these events – had I finished this nearly two weeks ago I would have had a less tolerant more “come on people, snap out of it” tone – because that is what I was feeling. That is ok and my own perspective change is important too – it simply points to the importance of the first three bullets above which are all about acknowledging the other person’s perspective.
There is one more question worth exploring briefly. Think about how much time you are thinking about, talking about and perhaps worrying about Fukushima Daiichi. And think about how much more you might have been thinking, talking and perhaps worrying if events in Libya hadn’t sprung up. The reality is the media moved on, because they had another story.
As leaders it may be your job to help people gain perspective by giving them a new story. While we can’t change events around the globe, we can re-focus, re-energize, and re-new people by moving their thoughts to something more productive, more valuable and more advantageous (like your vision, goals, and purpose).
I hope this post serves as a reminder and a call to action for you as a leader – that you must lead from and through people’s feelings – to give them a healthy perspective and an chance to succeed.