I have never had to be in the path of a real tornado, but have viewed the aftermath of one. The destruction they can cause is unbelievable, including loss of life for members of the community. What I do know is that tornadoes often appear with little warning, it is difficult to determine in exactly what direction they might head, and there is nothing that can be done to mitigate the loss of property when one hits directly. All you should do when a tornado appears is to take appropriate shelter and pray for the best.
It seems unfair to compare a real-life tornado with what might happen in an organization, yet it is a term that is often used, with such phrases as "it looks like a tornado went through here," or "that person is reeking havoc just like a tornado." Just as a tornado comes on suddenly with an unknown path and great destruction, the same can happen when people behave badly or external circumstances impact an organization. What can leaders do in such situations? Here are a few thoughts:
- hang on for the ride - just as we cannot "tame" a real tornado, it is impossible to tame people or external forces
- shelter down - sometimes you need to get yourself and others out of the way of the destruction and wait it out until the storm passes over...keep everyone safe
- prepare ahead of time - just as those who live in tornado alleys, think ahead what you will do if and when disruption hits your organization.. How will you handle a situation over which you have little or no control? What kind of "sheltering" is in place for your employees
- hold a "tornado" drill - talking about what you will do, and having people think through certain situations may help in not catching you unaware when disaster strikes
- expect tornadoes to happen - it is often not a question of "if" but rather of "when." Organizations will go through turbulent times, so don't think you are safe just because nothing has happened for a while
- Be ready for the clean up - after disaster hits, it's time to clean up and recover. Ask for help, get all hands on deck, and know that in time life will return to normal.
I hope and pray that the destruction that happens as a result of a real tornado does not happen to anyone's organization...and I know that it will happen in time. How you think about it, how you prepare for it, and how you react to it will make all the difference in the world. Get ready to hug that next tornado!