When faced with adversity, leaders remain calm

In April 1983, my brother, Jack, and I were trapped on the uninhabited side of the Current River by a historic flood. None of the weather forecasts from Poplar Bluff, Missouri where we began this adventure, even hinted at the scale of this flood. The rain did not let up for eleven hours pounding the valley and swelling the river. The river chased us all day. The water flowed like a creek down the hill. Every inch of our bodies was soaked to the bone. It was not very cold but we were starting to suffer from the long exposure.

Hour eight, we began to organize ourselves to search for shelter, dryness and warmth. An hour went by as we sloshed up a series of hills and onto the ridge top guided by map and compass. There appeared to be a structure on the map about three miles away. Late in the afternoon, the superintendent of Montauk State Park rescued us after our ninth hour of constant exposure. He kindly took us to the only accessible housing, a cabin in a hunting camp.

Chilled to the point of shaking, we asked for a room. The caretaker informed us that the room would not be ready for an hour. We were too shocked to argue. When we asked for a place to get in out of the wind, she directed us to an open-ended shed near the main house. The shed had been used to dress some recently harvested wild turkeys and had the smell to prove it. Guts lay covered with flies in a pile at one end of the building and feathers flew with each footstep. Jack and I took off our clothes and rung the water out of them and put them back on. We were so cold that hypothermia was a real danger for us both.

When we finally took possession of our stark cabin, I collapsed into bed. At my arising, I searched for pen and paper to document this horrendous event. I was able to locate a pen but paper was elusive. Finally, I grabbed a brown paper bag in a corner. I carefully disassembled the seams and flattened the bag. Then for the next 30 minutes the words flowed, describing the ordeal Jack and I had experienced. I still have that brown piece of paper in my files.

Anytime you enter nature, you must be prepared for the unexpected. We knew that some rain was coming but not 11 inches. However, you can’t argue or negotiate with nature. You assess the situation and make the best plan possible. If your first plan fails, you make another and if you are successful, you make progress. In no endeavor is success guaranteed. A mild risk can turn into an extreme one. When that happens, leaders are tested. Those who pass the test stay calm and design and implement a plan.

R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray’s new book, Tons of Stone above my head: Coal Mining Stories with Leadership Lessons, visit his Web site, www.raycomlearning.com. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.

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