Napa Fires Offer Powerful Lesson on Leadership, Courage and Connection

 

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Napa Fire near Atlas Peak, October 2017

 

A client of mine lives near Atlas Peak in Napa. He and his family were evacuated during the horrific fires that descended upon the Napa Valley recently. When they returned to their home, miraculously, the raging fire had stopped 150 feet from his home.

A friend of his wasn’t so lucky.

My client and several friends gathered for safety at another family’s house after they had all been evacuated. One friend was devastated when he and his wife told the others that his family’s home and winery were literally in the line of fire and that he was certain their home would be lost. Their children were in the next room waiting helplessly.

My client and his friends and their families sat quietly for a while, all stunned by what was happening. The sorrow for this family’s loss was just about to consume them when my client and his buddies looked at their friend, his wife and kids and back to each other and said, “Hell, no, it isn’t going to take your house. Let’s go fight it!”

The wind was blowing at 70 mph, flames were jumping wildly across the landscape. Propane tanks were whistling and exploding without warning throughout the area. Flames shot up through unseen wells.

These men, bonded by love, friendship and a deep connection to the land, gathered with plows, chainsaws, buckets, hacksaws. They descended on their friend’s property and began to fight to put the fire out. The firefighters told them they were on their own.

They worked relentlessly and courageously into the night. The tall burning eucalyptus trees across the property rained fire down on their heads. There was no power, no cell service and no lights other than the surreal and ethereal glow coming from other homes that were on fire in the area. One of them fell into a well and when he was rescued, got right back to work, despite injury. They plowed motes to create fire breaks, they cut away burning trees and shrubs and stumps that threated to spread and destroy the home. My client was in tennis shoes and shorts. The ground was so hot it melted the bottom of his shoes, but he kept on. They carried five-gallon buckets of water in each hand and repeatedly filled and poured water onto the fire. They all continued working for many hours straight until they successfully stopped the fire.

Relieved and exhausted, they returned to the friend’s house where they had all gathered earlier in safety. They didn’t get much rest, though, as they soon found out that the fire had restarted. They returned for another several hours of battling until at last, and for certain, they had saved the home.

My client was modest and reflective as he told me this story. He said none of them thought twice about fighting the fire even though none were trained to do so. They never even considered the very real possibility of being injured. He said their anger at the fire fueled them. They refused to let it beat them. They channeled their anger in the most productive way possible. They joined together: friends, neighbors, fellow human beings. And as crazy as the experience was, he said it was a powerful experience, one of purpose and connection. In addition to saving his friend’s house, throughout the week as others were fighting to save their homes, he met neighbors whom he hadn’t met before. The “old timers” who had lived in the country for years taught him ways to protect his home and property. The tragedy created new bonds and brought a profound sense of community and shared purpose.

In the last sixty days we have witnessed an unnerving number of heart-wrenching catastrophes and we have heard similar stories of people helping others selflessly and without hesitation. I wept when I read the account of the woman in Las Vegas who held the hand of another concert goer whom she did not know, as he died. He did not die alone, she would not let him.

What is it that causes us to forget that we are inextricably connected to one another and need each other for survival in this world? It is so ironic that bias, judgement and hatred, which I believe all have their genesis in fear, fall completely away when we are scared for real, scared for our lives. Why does it take extreme situations for us to remember our common humanity and recognize the vulnerability present in every single one of us?

If there is any good that can come out of the tragedies and madness that is so pervasive right now in the U.S. and the world, perhaps it is an awareness that we can no longer fool ourselves into thinking that we are safe and that we can manage as stand-alone islands, merely co-existing with others. We cannot survive alone. We need each other, not just our families, friends and neighbors. We need each other across the globe. And not just in times of crisis. And not just because of economic and other interdependencies. I believe there is a universal soul of humanity and that soul is in desperate need of connection and of ongoing care and feeding.

Let’s be like my client and his friends in their refusal to let their buddy’s house burn down. Let’s daily make a point of showing our respect and love for others and refuse to accept anything less. Let’s look for ways to be nice, thoughtful, united and caring, especially when we disagree about issues. Let’s put our smart phones away for a while and make a point of talking to each other and building relationships. Let’s start each day with a grateful heart and intentionally share that heart with others in any way that we can. And then, let’s take measure of how it changes us. I’m betting it will be for the better. How about you?

Copyright 2017 Sheila Madden. All Rights Reserved.

How To Lead With Valor In Turbulent Times

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Moral outrage and vehement, yet peaceful,  disagreement are necessary and legitimate responses to anyone or anything that goes against the morals and values of a civilized world. What we must be mindful of is not allowing our fight against injustice to mirror the energy and behavior of that with which we disagree. If we do, we inadvertently give what we don’t want MORE momentum.
The most effective and memorable leaders have risen powerfully against what is unjust while personally demonstrating  civility and respect for humanity. This is what shifts the momentum to what is good and just.
The characteristics of such leaders include being:
·        Principled vs self-righteous
·        Definitive vs equivocal
·        Passionate vs violent
The minute we fall into the same patterns of incivility in our protests  against the lack of civility, we have lost our power to influence change and we have inadvertently fueled the momentum of the very thing we despise.
“Hatred and fear blind us. We no longer see each other. We only see the faces of monsters, and that gives us the courage to destroy each other. Thich Nhat Hanh
Perhaps the greatest challenge of leadership is in managing our own emotional reactions to violations of human values. But when we can do so, we are able to  seize the opportunity and  respond intentionally with our thoughts, words and actions.  Leading by example for what we stand for and what we are unwilling to compromise on, even when provoked, has great power. It teaches and empowers others to do the same, and most important, it disempowers opposing forces.
“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” Helen Keller
Let us take inspiration from and stand with the great leaders, famous and not famous,  who have come before us and to those we see modeling leadership character today. The best way to show our gratitude for their brave actions that have made our world better is to do our part every day. It is not necessary to play on a huge stage. It is only necessary that we use our every word and action to demonstrate our  uncompromising devotion to a world where love prevails and where the universal operating system upon which we exist is based on the dignity of all humanity.
Copyright 2017, Sheila Madden. All Rights Reserved.

5 Things Successful Leaders Know That Make Us Want To Follow Them

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The amazing Dr. Maya Angelou understood the profound difference between management (what is done) and leadership (how things are done). She expressed it with her unique heart-full clarity when she said: “People will forget what you said, they will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

The #1 Crippling Behavior That Will Cause You Failure In Leadership and Life

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The one crippling behavior that will cause you failure in leadership and in life, (and by life, I mean as a partner, a parent, a friend etc.) is the lack of empathy.

Empathy, which is a cornerstone of emotional intelligence, specifically social awareness, is often misunderstood as sharing other people’s emotions and concerns and caring deeply about them. That innate caring and concern is more representative of compassion.
Continue reading → The #1 Crippling Behavior That Will Cause You Failure In Leadership and Life

6 Things Courageous Leaders Never Fail To Do

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90% of the problems that leaders face, and their subsequent solutions, are ambiguous, according to a study done by Korn Ferry/Lominger. To deal with this ambiguity requires spaciousness in thinking and being. It is not about always having the answer and proving to be the smartest person in the room. Rather, it requires having humility and respect for the responsibility of creating an environment where people can learn to  think, innovate and problem solve successfully while navigating through the unknown.
Continue reading → 6 Things Courageous Leaders Never Fail To Do

Kindness: The Surprising X Factor For Successful Leaders

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“My Religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.”    The Dalai Lama

Kindness is a leadership characteristic that will deliver financial and humanitarian returns beyond imagination. It helps us create work environments that are based on trust and that allow people to express and experience meaning and purpose at work.
Continue reading → Kindness: The Surprising X Factor For Successful Leaders

5 Ways Super Successful Leaders Operate

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“I want to know God’s thoughts, the rest are details.” Albert Einstein

Einstein believed that God’s thoughts were accessible and that he could hear them if he got himself into a certain state of mind, the mind of imagination. When he said that imagination is more important than knowledge, my guess is that he came to that insight after he experienced what many of us have experienced: Knowledge can only take us so far.
Continue reading → 5 Ways Super Successful Leaders Operate

5 Questions Leadership Teams Should Be Asking Themselves Everyday

 

womenexecconvoLeadership = Fierce Conversations Required

Our lives are a series of relationships, the success or failure of which happens one conversation at a time.  The same is true for our organizations. The quality of the conversations that executive teams have among themselves will either help  their organization succeed, under-perform or potentially fail.
Continue reading → 5 Questions Leadership Teams Should Be Asking Themselves Everyday

5 Things No One Will Tell You About Being A Great Leader

10871528-leadershipLeadership failures are failures of the soul. They are always the result of people losing sight of who they are, what their real job is and what the right thing is to do. We tend to make leader heroes out of those who have the sexiest products, the most successful innovations, the best financial results or IPO’s. Those are all great results, but they are just that: the results of great leadership.  But what is the actual secret leadership sauce that is the catalyst for creating results like these? There are lots of combinations of things, which definitely include external as well as internal factors. But when you examine those stellar leadership stories, you will generally find individuals who understand that these 5 building blocks are key for creating a foundation for great leadership. 
Continue reading → 5 Things No One Will Tell You About Being A Great Leader