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As Houston begins its recovery from the devastating effects of hurricane Harvey, I can’t help but look for the leadership lessons in the experience.

Not unlike a crisis situation or change initiative at work, the collective nervous system is shot, people are reactive, anxious, and, for people like me, who were minimally affected, perhaps even feel guilty. Let’s not forget the weight gain from days of eating chocolate, potato chips and other comforting foods while trapped inside for five days, dodging tornado warnings.

In the chaos I learned three valuable leadership lessons.

Lesson #1: Everyone is a hero waiting for his or her moment.

Media coverage during Harvey captured countless incidents of every day people using their boats, trucks, kayaks and jet skis to help their neighbors. Emotional stories of dramatic rescue reminded us that everyone is a hero waiting for his or her moment, even the jackass down the road who we think isn’t worth much.

In the work environment employees are aching to uncover their full potential – to be heroes. Everyone is looking for an opportunity to fully utilize their talent, skill and creativity, and in so doing,  experience intense pride and fulfillment.

In the ROAR book, Tim Mulligan and I reference San Diego Zoo Global’s “Zooperheroes” initiative – a program to recognize heroic efforts by employees. In the spirit of Harvey, I wonder what would be possible if, like the Zoo, we intentionally architected opportunities for employees to rise up in extraordinary ways – to show us all they can be?

Lesson #2: Don’t wait for a disaster to be kind to your neighbors.

When the flood waters rose and people were stranded, scared and hungry, political differences, prejudices and conflicts dissolved. People of different races, socio-economic backgrounds and religions hugged and cried together. Kindness, love and compassion dominated and, frankly, saved lives.

I can’t help but wonder what it would be like if we were able to more consistently cultivate a kinder, more caring workplace. Let’s not wait for a threat to our existence before we reach out to the person in the next cubicle, reach beyond a difference in opinion, or reach over a silo to create community.

Lesson #3: When people rally around a cause incredible things happen.

When you think back on major world crises, natural disasters or terrorist attacks, they always seem to bring people together. In the aftermath of adversity, people rally around a cause producing unprecedented results. Just look at the Freedom Tower at 1 World Trade Center for a visible demonstration of the beauty and creativity that emerges from tragedy.

When you “velcro” people to a Massive Transformative Purpose (MTP), it has a motivating power. People get out of bed in the morning with a compelling sense of purpose and solve big problems.

And, finally, perhaps the most valuable lesson I learned from Harvey is that resilience is a skill-set not a personality trait.

Resilience is a result of daily habits, practices and rituals to cultivate emotional, physical, relational and mental strength so when the storm hits you’re able to respond with calm focus, stay “whole” and be proactive. For those of us in the eye of Harvey, we know these are the skills that prevent you from getting trapped by the rising water.

It strikes me that these are the same skills you need at work to thrive and stay relevant.

Resilience is a hot topic in business. To learn more about how to build a resilient organization or inquire about a keynote on how to thrive in disruptive times, please contact Sandy Asch.

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