The measure of a leader is action in a crisis

In April of 1983, my brother, Jack, and I were beginning a 10-day archaeological survey of the banks of the Current River in Southcentral Missouri. In the middle of the night, a steady rain began.

By 4 a.m., we decided that, with the first rays of light, an evacuation was in order. With periodic checks of the river’s level, we found that it was definitely rising at an increasingly rapid pace. Not waiting for the daylight, we furiously went to work evacuating our gear from what was now the river’s edge.

A rush of water from a tributary whose confluence was directly across the river from our campsite gushed into and even backed up the main stream. Soon, the once tiny stream overtook the area where only minutes before our canoe and food had been stored. Once more, Jack and I poured ourselves into the task of moving our stuff to the piece of ground where our tent was standing. We watched the river climb farther and farther out of its banks invading and covering the second area where our gear set.

7:30 a.m. began our fourth hour of rain and our third gear evacuation. This time we dismantled the tent and moved it too. There was no rest available, however. When the third evacuation was completed, we were ready to begin the fourth evacuation. This evacuation would have to be by canoe because the field where we and the gear sat was now completely surrounded by water.

The lightning was brilliant and fierce for about 30 minutes. We were scared to stay near the aluminum canoe because it was such an excellent electrical conductor. We moved away a short distance and sat on the ground in the pouring rain. I glanced at Jack sitting there, head bowed with rain dripping off his nose. He looked so sad and depressed that I began to be scared for him. I started telling him every funny story and joke that I knew. Finally, we both broke into repeated laughter. The laughter eased the tension and put things back into perspective for both of us.

Hour five of steady rain forced us to carry out our evacuation by canoe across the newest channel of the river. Our first planned landing point was foiled by a partially submerged barbed wire fence. Therefore, we canoed down the stream for about 50 feet to where a road had once crossed the field. It took three trips to salvage all of our gear and the tent.

After a second or two of catching our breath, we began packing our gear up the steep field to a fence row out of potential water level where we were going to stash everything. The speed of the rising water chased us up the hill. We lugged the gear and supplies about twenty feet above the surging water and then once again carried it higher. By 10:30, hour seven of our ordeal with six different evacuations, we saw our previous resting place disappear from sight in the angry, brown water hurtling trees five to eight feet in diameter down this powerful river.

Jack and I met this life-threatening emergency as a team. This situation demanded focus and attention to detail. Our adrenaline was pumping and we did what we had to do. Sometimes leadership requires such quick, immediate action. True leadership is measured by crisis.

R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray’s book, The Facilitative Leader: Behaviors that Enable Success, visit his Web site, www.raycomlearning.com.Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.

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