Monday, January 17, 2022

2007 - Leadership and Fire Drills

 

Jackie Pask and members of her fire department

(40 Summers 40 Lessons Series)

One of the best Aquatics leaders I have had the good fortune to work with was Jackie Pask. We were both with the YMCA in Tallahassee, Florida and our time at that YMCA was always one where we had deep financial issues and moving from crisis to crisis. (I wrote about some of this in another BLOG featuring Peggy Conklin’s leadership and those lessons as well.)

Jackie had a differing management or leadership style (Can you guess hers?) that has served her well and she incorporates a tenant of the Scout motto to “be prepared.”

“Treat everyday like a fire drill,” she said to me at one of our first meetings. Her theory was that it seemed things happened and went askew every day and followed what Bear Bryant (former coach of Alabama football) said, “In a crisis, don’t hide behind anything or anybody. They’re going to find you anyway.”

I recently touched bases with Jackie and she is still following that tried and true method in her life at home and at work. In the current world of crisis after crisis, it seems that Jackie’s methodology has solid backing.

Eric J McNulty and Leonard Marcus on Crisis Management (Harvard Business Review, March 25, 2020) wrote, You need to make immediate choices and allocate resources. The pace is fast, and actions are decisive.”  To Jackie’s perspective, it is about resiliency and the ability to get thru any crisis.

While McNulty and Marcus did point out, to my opinion and leadership style, that there was an inherent “risk and ambiguity during a crisis because so much is uncertain and volatile,” they also focused on the fact that the order meant subordinates knew what they were expected to do as well as what was expected of others. Jackie’s team gets what they always get from her management and leadership. There is no wavering.

Nietzsche said, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” I believe that resiliency is a skill that most young people display and that often times, it is driven out of by some of the mundane tasks of life. If we repeat often enough, there again is that danger of ambiguity.

“Every day is a new opportunity. You can build on yesterday’s success or put its failures behind and start over again. That’s the way life is, with a new game every day, and that’s the way baseball is.” Bob Feller, Hall of Fame pitcher for the Cleveland Indians said and practiced this in his leadership as well.

My thinking on this always brings up the Bill Murray movie, Ground Hog Day. Murray wakes up each morning to Sonny and Cher singing on the alarm radio and he learns to expect the same results even when he goes off and tries to alter every situation. It is a conundrum to consider. I have felt somewhat like that character many times in the recent past.

The past two years has been a demonstration of a fire drill every day. (Or even more so) It has been an actual fire in different places and in so many different areas of our lives.

Jackie continues her good work and does two things exceptionally well. She has a great way to prioritize issues quickly. She sees the crisis and can change and (yes I am using the P word) and pivot to new priorities. The second thing is she communicates this to her team and those she serves with a great deal of clarity.

I am grateful for my time and work with Jackie and I look forward to hearing from her as she maintains the steadfast motto.

I know that whatever comes up, she will be consistent in her approach. For me, I continue to learn and grow in my own leadership style with her influence. And as former Senate Majority Leader, Mike Mansfield said, “The crisis you have to worry about most is the one you don’t see coming.”

A reminder from Jackie that she has in her home and work.


In this New Year, let’s hope for fewer crisis that we don’t see coming.

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