Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way

I live in Calgary, Alberta. Generally, it is a pretty easy pace to live in. It s an affluent place driven by natural resource riches. It is a small enough city to remain friendly and approachable, yet still have sufficient amenities and culture to allow it to be described as enriching. We lament the weather here, but not much more than most Canadian cities where there is always something meteorological to complain about.

Until June 21, 2013. The first day of summer. The first day of the worst flooding this City and region has seen since the dawn of Canada.  100,000 people displaced, thousands of homes destroyed or damaged. Billions of dollars of losses. Years of rebuilding ahead. Lives and families forever altered.

Our expectation is that this is what happens "somewhere else"
Our expectation is that this is what happens “somewhere else”

All of this is true, and for each of us we find ways to engage the tragedy of it all. There are always options. Lead. Follow. Get out of the way. Do one or do all three. What got me thinking about this choice has been a strong sense of guilt for not just being out there and digging into the need.

I have led. As a senior leader within an organization it has been important for me to support the team and ensure their safety. There has been contingency planning and taking action on urgent requests. There has been coordination of roles and communication.

I have followed. I have listened to the local media and understood what was asked of citizens to smooth the course. I have made financial donations to the Red Cross and gathered clothing and household articles to be given to agencies to distribute them. I have taken action to minimize my impact on a very strained infrastructure.

Hard to believe!
Hard to believe!

But mostly I have just gotten out of the way. I have heeded the requests to stay off the streets and to let the emergency services teams do their jobs. There is great need for people to volunteer their time and energy to the cleanup. And thousands have. The stories are amazing. Thousands of people showing up at the local football stadium to be assigned to work crews. So numerous that many were sent back home. Food tents being set up to feed the displaced and the volunteers. People heading out to evacuation centres to provide comfort.

And I have felt guilty for not being among them. Why? I’m not too shy to be present with strangers. I’m not bothered by hard work or mess. I have put myself into more demanding situations in the past. Why not now? I know there are probably many reasons here. Not small among them for me is the feeling of despair and unfairness I feel for those who are suffering that I find hard to override. But I don’t think this was it.

I think what was truly afoot was that I didn’t feel called to that work. I was waiting to feel compelled to do something. There is a fourth option and that is to simply act or do.

It had not happened until six days after the flood when I got together with my friend Louse Gallagher and we began to discuss her work with the homeless population and supporting agencies in Calgary. Louise is incredible in this space. She understands homelessness and related to homeless people like no one I’ve ever known. We discussed the impending crisis in homelessness that the flood will bring. Flooded basement suites. Shelters out of commission. An influx of unskilled labour attracted to the upcoming rebuilding driven construction boom.

I realized that as we talked that my contribution may just be found in my essential gifts. The skills that I am naturally drawn to. Facilitation of plans and consensus. Building new ways of doing known things. So Louise and I agreed to do just that and have begun the process of engaging with her to find new ways forward.

I’m now energized by this, and in moments of contemplation realize that I am not leading. Nor am I following. And I am certainly not getting out of the way. I simply act. I do what I have been drawn to, and in doing so will contribute the most.

There is a lot of doing to be done
There is a lot of doing to be done

I suspect this is true for many/most of the volunteers. They too have been drawn to where they believe they can maximize their contribution. In talking to others I’ve realized that the feelings of guilt are not unique. People feel guilty for not helping enough. When they are helping they feel guilty for neglecting their families or jobs. They feel guilty for being spared.

Let’s understand that we didn’t choose to be impacted or spared. There is no shame in either. What remains for all of us is to contribute the best of what we have to the collective well-being of our community.

Published by

Ian Munro @ leadingessentially.com

Ian Munro is a leadership and vitality coach with a primary passion for working with senior professionals who wish to improve their connection to and vitality in their career, or who wish to make a transition to a meaningful and rewarding retirement. His methods are focused on helping clients understand why they present as they do in day-to-day life, discover their authentic self and give themselves permission to build a meaningful and rewarding future, both professional and personal. Ian’s love for this work has developed naturally as he built his career as an executive and leader in the IT services industry, serving in many roles and facets of this industry over 25 years. As he reached the pinnacle of his career he began to search more deeply for meaning and alternate rewards from his own career and to begin to plan for his own “first retirement”.

8 thoughts on “Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way

  1. Well said, Ian. I think all of us must listen to that inner voice — and trust it. We must all act upon what our voice is calling for us to do — and know, it is wise.

    You are wise my friend and I am grateful for our work together — and your friendship.

    1. I agree with you Louise. The trick is to separate the true inner voice from the inner din telling us all the things we should/need/must be doing.

      Thank you for all you do in the world! You make it easy to follow you!

  2. Very thoughtful piece Ian. I felt guilty about being spared. I felt guilty about not helping enough.

    As you may know, I worked in the homeless sector for 20 years. I look forward to hearing what you and Louise are doing together!

    1. Thank you Diana. Perhaps the whole thing is that disasters are just so hard to comprehend that we can’t find ourselves within it so guilt rises to the surface.

  3. In every disaster or crisis there is initial shock. Some people act in that shock period by going into denial, blocking out the immensity of the calamity, and getting out there helping. Others respond by withdrawal until they recover from the shock aspect, then later turn around and act with leadership and drive. There is no right or wrong action, or right or wrong timing

    I have great admiration for both you and Louise taking on the issue of homelessness in the aftermath of this disaster.

  4. Interesting post, to hear from someone who has chosen to stay out of the way – but mindfully.

    Flooding always baffles me as you think the world is so large it surely must spread spread down to nothing, evaporate or whatever. Really sounds a disaster, and 100,000 is horrific. What an absolute derailing of your life.

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