I took a trip to up, upstate New York last weekend before the state issued their shelter-in-place order. The scene was surreal. The town of Clayton, New York sits on the Saint Lawrence River overlooking Canada, just northeast of Lake Ontario. The promenade is gorgeous., lined with hundreds of Adirondack chairs overlooking the river. Ferry landings and their wide births waiting for the next boat to arrive. Open air table dining to maximize their view of the sun setting over the fast moving river. The scene was idyllic. Idyllic and barren. There wasn’t a soul enjoying the breathtaking location. Part of me was excited to appreciate this beauty in quiet and part of me was fearful that this was the beginning of the new normal.
Welcome to Swimming in the Flood; a podcast where we develop the resilient leader’s mindset by navigating difficult currents in business. My name is Trent Theroux.
COVID-19 has gashed into our communities, our workplaces and families. In this week’s episode I want to show Developing Resilient Leaders how to look for a path out of the surreal.
My purpose in upstate New York was to escort my Canadian friend, Penny, back home. She was concerned about flying out of Boston and potentially contaminating her small hamlet in Northern Ontario. So, we thought it would be best that I drive her to the border where she could be picked up by her brother and taken home. Our plan was to minimize our contact with others. Little did I know that the people I was going to have contact with were carrying automatic weapons. But that will take a minute to get to.
We walked through the main street of the idyllic and barren town – right down the double yellow line in the center of town. It can’t be jaywalking when cars don’t exist on the road. We walked past the opera house built in 1905 and the confectionary store, which looks to be about the same age. Both closed. Lights completely off. This resembled a scene out of The Stand, or The Hot Zone, or Station Eleven or some other pandemic based novel, but it was no novel. At the next intersection, we saw to our right a liquor store that was open. I looked at Penny and we both nodded. Yes, some bourbon would make this a better walk.
Using tissues in our hands, we grasped the handle of the door and entered the cramped liquor store and perused the selection. The prices were higher than I was expecting. Maybe because it was a resort town. Maybe because more people wanted some good bourbon to make the time pass. The cashier rang up our purchase and we chatted about him being open while the entire town was shut down. He said, through his massively overgrown beard, “The Governor considers us to be essential.” How are liquor stores essential? Can you imagine the number of people who would be filling up the emergency room with the shakes and DTs if they couldn’t get their booze every day? I get it. Hooch IS essential in upstate New York.
We went back to our hotel room, essential bourbon in tow, and planned our transfer across the border the next morning. Oh, did I fail to mention that the President shut down the border to Canada while I had a Canadian staying in my house? Yeah, I missed that briefing too. Anyway, we were in the hotel room looking for a movie to watch. I suggested Bridge of Spies, the recent Spielberg movie about the trading of prisoners in the Cold War by passing them from one side of the bridge to the other. Penny did not appreciate my sense of humor. “Plus”, I said, “It stars Tom Hanks. You can learn a lot from him. He landed a plane on the Hudson, ran a successful Shrimping company and now has the Coronavirus!” I was summarily told to shut up.
The next morning, I brought Penny to the border and explained to the border control officer that I just wanted to drop her off in the parking lot, where her brother was waiting, turn around and head home. Surprisingly, the border guard waived me through with no issue and even welcomed me to Canada. How about that, eh? I dropped Penny off with a kiss goodbye, turned my car around towards the American border. I drove less than 200 yards before my car was stopped by an American border patrol guard, holding an automatic rifle with a puss like Schwarzenegger in Commando. We were well in front of passport control and this officer was motioning for me to lower my window. “How long have you been in Canada for sir?” My response, “eight minutes.” “Not funny, sir. How long?” “Seriously, I was here for eight, now nine minutes. I just dropped someone off.” He reached for the walkie-talkie near his collarbone and said, “Will you come down here? We may have a problem.” Transport trucks were lining up behind me as I was now the bottleneck for vital goods being delayed their delivery into America.
The guard now looking at me. “Are you transporting anything back from Canada.” The list of sarcastic responses about buying lemonade on the side of the road were cued up in my head, but thank God for the training my mother gave me as a child. “Trent, never talk back to a police officer.” “I have not made any purchases, officer.”
I was getting agitated about being questioned. I was agitated about holding up the line. I was agitated about having an assault rifle pointed in my general direction. I was agitated that the world had changed so much that I needed to drive to Canada to transport someone home.
Ten minutes later, I was welcomed back into America and sent on my way. As I was driving, I was thinking about how quickly times have changed. People getting sick, people losing their jobs, businesses closing, stock market crashes, and I was worked up about spending ten extra minutes while the authorities executed their duties. The priorities in my mind shifted to what was more important. Leaders can be frustrated by a situation, but that does not give them license to take that frustration out on people dutifully performing their work.
Three million people filed for unemployment this week. Let that number roll around your tongue for a minute. Three million. That doesn’t count the gig economy workers. This pandemic is taking a devastating toll on all of us.
I am now going to give you my unscientific, non-peer reviewed, resilient leader theory on the Pandemic. Are you ready? Got your pencils out? Here’s it is. Find Your Silver Lining. You heard it. Find Your Silver Lining.
The theory is simple here’s how it works. I’ve talked to a number of business leaders over the past week trying to assess how the pandemic impacts them and their businesses. There isn’t one answer. The responses are enormously varied, but they all have one thread. Each business leader had one thing in common; they all had a silver lining. Something positive they could point to as a direct result of this event.
One company mobilized 24,000 of its employees to work at home, another told me that auto accidents are down significantly because of less people on the road, a third said that their emergency plans had never been tested before but now proved successful, a fourth said that their company was required to innovate.
Yes, innovation. Necessity is the mother of innovation, the old proverb attributed to Plato. It proves true. This pandemic has created a necessity for developing resilient leaders to innovate their businesses and processes. Innovate how they think. Innovate how they interact with others. Innovate how they view the markets and the world. It is easy for us to wallow in the tragedy as we watch the spread of the virus. It is harder for leaders to show their charges the path to recovery. Find the silver lining in your situation. Find the path to lead your people toward a better tomorrow. Spring is here. Flowers are starting to bloom. And this too shall pass.
My friend, Brian had a great saying. Always look on the bright side of life. He was in a rather tenuous predicament when he was singing it, but it seems pretty appropriate for today. Don’t be afraid to whistle along.
Thank you for listening to Swimming in the Flood. Resilient leaders face challenging currents and it is tough navigating, but with one tack or another we can get there together.
If you’ve got a couple of minutes, please check out my new website, trenttheroux.com. And, while you’re thinking of it – subscribe to the podcast. That way you can get developing resilient leader theories hot off the presses. This week I gave a virtual lesson on Influencing People to a group of twenty developing resilient leaders. It was my first time doing corporate training online and I’m sure it won’t be my last. If you’d like me to deliver a similar message to your office email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to discuss some of the details.
Thanks for taking the time to listen. See ya.