From Peaceful Evening to Stormy Night

After enjoying a pleasant picnic on an island in Lake Minnetonka, our friend Cindy and I gathered up dinner gear as the sun slipped into the horizon, leaving a splash of color behind. Busy chatting as we set up for a campfire and tucked gear away before dark, we didn’t notice that the sky had changed. We were startled when Jay (my husband) ran into our picnic site, shouting “We need to get out of here … there is a lightning storm bearing down on us!“ We jumped into action.

The three of us scrambled to gather our four kids and scamper onto the boat. In the 5-10 minutes it took the seven of us to get loaded, the sky became dark and wind whistled above the whir of the boat engine.

Jay hit the throttle and sped through a no-wake zone, heading in a beeline to the boat landing about five miles away. Choppy waters and wind tossed us as we worked our way across the lake as fast as possible. By the time we got to the boat landing, the rain was pelting us in the open boat while lightening flashed its warning in the distance.

Safety was in eyeshot, but we were deterred by a swarm of boats that hovered around the boat landing. Cindy comforted and soothed the kids, while Jay and I quickly devised a game plan. I took the wheel and queued up for an opening to drop Jay at a dock. Fortunately, the line moved smoothly, and Jay was soon on land, running for our van and boat trailer.

I circled away from the dock to join the cluster of other boats that were waiting for their trailers to be ready at one of the three side-by-side ramps. The boats tossed in the wind like bucking broncos, challenging their drivers to keep them in control. Adrenaline rushed through my veins, rain rendered my glasses useless—I took them off and handed them to Cindy. My nautical instincts pulsed through every nerve of my body as I held our boat steady by throttling forward and backward with enough gas to overpower the wind. Meanwhile, I kept a keen eye on the other boats, prepared to make a quick move if someone around us lost control.

Eventually, it was our turn to land. In one of the most brilliant communication moments of our 27-year marriage, Jay and I mind-melded. We both stayed calm and executed the boat landing with coordinated efficiency and mental telepathy. There was one more tense moment when a large boat next to us caught a gust and almost bashed us. In the nick of time, the driver backed out of our way. Phew! On solid ground again, we were soaking wet but out of danger.

Surviving in Nature and Business

Tales about the brave Texans who kept their wits about them and saved themselves and their neighbors during Hurricane Harvey inspired me to reflect on my brushes with the wild side of Mother Nature. Our escape from a lightning storm on the lake was nothing compared to the catastrophe Hurricane Harvey wrecked on Texas. However, it’s a firsthand experience of how rapidly nature can change from peace and tranquility to horror. During crisis moments in nature or the workplace, a few universal truths can help to steer us to calmer waters.

Keep an Eye on the Radar—If Jay had not been alert to the changing sky, our story would have been different (this episode predated weather radar and alerts on smart phones). As Hurricane Harvey showed there is a “stay” or “go” decision. We belted for home. But maybe we should have sought shelter on the island/ Weather data can inform these choices. Similarly, business decisions are better when they are informed by forecasts.

Think on Your Feet— We had sketched out a broad-brush plan at the boat landing: Jay would touch-and-go but there was no time to put all passengers on shore during our brief turn at the dock. There was no handbook on how to merge with the cluster of boats hovering around the boat landing and—more importantly—how to keep our boat steady and ready. It required in-the-moment thinking and awareness of our surroundings.

Work Together—In this crisis, Cindy, Jay, and I assumed our roles seamlessly. We each contributed to the bigger goal of navigating our children to safety. Some of them were old enough to help; others shrunk away in fear. Between the three of us, we comforted them and landed our families on solid ground.

Sometimes You Need to Break the Rules—Jay is not a rule breaker, but in this instance he knew that the 10 minutes it would have taken to putter through the no-wake zone were crucial. Sometimes leaders need to defy organizational norms to navigate their teams out of crisis—but within reason. Corruption and collusion are always out of bound—regardless of the disaster.

Sometimes You Need to Follow the Rules—We might have chosen to unload our passengers when Jay got off. But it would have created a big mess at the docks—potentially causing our boat to get smashed into the dock or someone getting hurt while hopping off. Minimally it would have slowed down the queue. It helps to create order out of chaos if we pay attention to the welfare of those around us—even in a crisis.

As our hearts go out to the victims of Hurricane Harvey (and those in the path of Hurricane Irma), we might consider how to behave in a disaster. And we can learn from the stories of the citizen heroes who put their own lives on the line to save others.

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