Years ago I had the good fortune to visit the Philippines while serving as a Midshipman aboard USS TARAWA (LHA-1). I recall a colorful, vibrant place and friendly people.
Several months ago a massive typhoon – more powerful than any on record – drew the Philippines and the Filipino people into a fight for their lives. It’s a fight that will demand heroic leadership at EVERY level of society – from the head of the country to the head of the family.
I was a part of the United States Navy’s response to Hurricane Katrina, and I can say with some authority that in these situations EVERYTHING is hard. Nothing comes easy. Nothing.
Want a drink of clean water? That’s hard.
Hungry for a cookie? That’s hard.
Want some gasoline? You guessed it… hard.
With that said, in some respects leadership during the immediate response to Hurricane Katrina was easy. Everyone was eager, amped and pumped. People of every stripe were clamoring to help in any way possible. I led a watch team in the Navy’s logistics effort, and my entire team was happy to work night and day to ease the suffering in New Orleans.
It’s easy to lead when the spotlight is on, when the adrenaline is pumping, and when fatigue and drudgery have not yet arrived on scene. But eventually, the rush to the conflict will subside. The eagerness becomes meagerness, the amped become damped, and the pumped become dumped. Then what’s a leader to do?
Leaders do what they have done from time immemorial. They envision a better place, and set about the tasks of communicating their vision and inspiring others to fulfill that vision.
As we read this brief article, we know that the shining spotlight of the world’s media has already left the Philippines. It’s “old” news. But rest assured that there are leaders in the Philippines doing the work of heroes. Their work has just begun, and it will likely last a lifetime. These leaders will we remain largely unsung, hailed only by those around them who may one day recall how their leader relentlessly pursued their vision of a better day, and inspired everyone around them to persevere during the darkest days. They will recall these hours of blood, sweat and toil as their finest.
As fire service leaders we will certainly be called to lead in places where the excitement of the initial conflict has waned, but the demands of the mission remain. When we are faced with prolonged challenges that shake the confidence of our entire communities we must communicate our visions and be models of perseverance.
We, as leaders, must turn the darkest hours into the finest hours. Recall Winston Churchill’s leadership as Great Britain faced dire circumstances in the Battle of Britain during World War II:
“Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, this was their finest hour.”