Two years ago we wrote a post contrasting the leadership, planning, and execution associated with 9/11 and Katrina. On 9/11,
9/11 was an event unlike any experienced before in the United States. However New York had a very detailed and well-rehearsed emergency action plan that was immediately put into place. The mayor and his various commissioners immediately knew where to go and assembled a rapid-response "war room". Communication issues were experienced, but they had been planned for and hence the impact was minimized. Giuliani took immediate charge, and very visibly commanded and coordinated his team. He also visibly reassured his city and the nation.
And then there was Katrina,
Katrina, by contrast, was known to be an event waiting to happen. Unlike 9/11, a specific plan was created for this type of event, one part of which called for an immediate and mandatory evacuation when a category 3 hurricane was poised to hit the city. The plan called for using city and school buses to evacuate those without transportation, but this plan was never executed… leaving tens of thousands stranded and hundreds of buses submerged only blocks from the Superdome. The governor had the authority to call out the National Guard immediately, but waited, and almost 1,000 of the New Orleans police deserted immediately.
Now we have a third example, the recent wild fires in California. As a resident, I’m used to the possibility of fire… and earthquakes, and mudslides, and paparazzi chasing Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan. I’m not sure which is worse. The largest earthquake in recent years was only about 15 miles from me, but there was minimal damage and injury. The fires created a lot of damage but surprisingly few fatalities, and we’ll see what the rainy season mudslides bring. Paris and Lindsay are simply pains in the rear quarter.
Only in California could a movie star become governor… twice. Schwarzenegger has many critics but also a very high approval rating, and how he handled the fire shows why.
It’s hard not to conclude, at this point, that Somebody Up There is a Schwarzenegger fan. How else does a muscle-bound guy with a heavy accent become a major movie star and then governor of Cauleeforneeah? The California Governor is drawing praise from across the political spectrum for his leadership as the fire emergency forced the largest evacuation in the state’s history.
"Across the political spectrum" is a bit of an understatement. When a Republican can get Diane Feinstein and even Barbara Boxer to sing his praises, it’s a rather extraordinary day.
Did Arnold complain like the mayor of New Orleans and governor of Louisiana? No. He knew that the federal government is not supposed to be a first responder. But he was also lucky enough to be leading a state that had detailed plans for just this type of emergency, and unlike New Orleans and Louisiana, he actually executed them.
But if it’s true that the Governor was lucky, it’s also true that luck favors the well-prepared. Schwarzenegger was able to move those National Guard troops quickly because he had a plan in place to redeploy them in an emergency. The obvious competence of the emergency response — in stark contrast to the debacle of Hurricane Katrina — was the product of years of training, planning and drills.
Planning and execution is one part of leadership, but another that we know well in the lean manufacturing world is going to the gemba. The place where it is happening. And that’s what the Governator did within hours.
He had planned to be with his wife, Maria Shriver, at a major conference on women’s issues sponsored by his office, but when the emergency escalated, he rushed to the front lines. With squinting eyes and frowny mouth, he greeted firefighters and surveyed the ruins of incinerated homes. "The most important thing is you jump into action as quickly as possible," he said.
Which brings me to another facet of effective leadership: connecting with your team, your customers, and your suppliers on a personal level.
The public needs to see "that you are a hands-on Governor," [Schwarzenegger said] that you "take care of the firefighters" and feel the pain of people who have lost their homes. Martin Kaplan, a former Democratic strategist and speechwriter who now directs the Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California, says Schwarzenegger has been on local television almost constantly, projecting calm and reassurance. "I’m also struck by his focus on the human dimensions of the disaster," Kaplan said. "He steers clear of the bureaucracy and lasers in on the personal."
Create a plan, train on the plan, execute the plan, go to the gemba, connect with people. It seems so easy. To bad so few do a good job at it.
Schwarzenegger’s crisis appears to be ending the way many of his movies wrapped up: with a lot of smoke and wreckage, but with the hero stronger than ever. This is one time, however, that Arnold would prefer not to star in a sequel.