When Hurricane Sandy struck the US, the massive storm – the largest Atlantic storm on record – was only second to Hurricane Katrina in the damage it inflicted. Sandy ravaged the New Jersey coast and surged through New York City, flooding streets and subway tunnels, paralyzing one of the world’s most vibrant and vital nerve centers.

Each crisis is unique in its shape and impact and yet each crisis is similar in the patterns that unfold – the failure of existing systems, the inadequacy of plans, the rise of informal leaders who courageously step into the breach. As is often the case in the aftermath of a crisis, we ask, what could we do to be better prepared?

CCL posed this question in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. We brought together formal and informal leaders from the frontlines of the rescue and recovery effort to ask – what do you know now that you wish you had known going into the storm. Over a three-day conversation, we gleaned a number of insights … how an established web of relationships can enable a system to muster a more rapid response, how organizations that empower their people can flex beyond the confines of policies and structure, and how emergent leaders are often first on the frontlines of disaster response.

What we also learned is being better prepared to deal with crisis and complexity is increasingly important in our interconnected and volatile world. This is the case with human systems, such as the financial crisis that tipped the world into recession, or natural systems that trigger fires, floods, tsunamis and storms. The word is that with warming of sea waters we have reason to expect more intense hurricanes. While crises are inevitable our level of vulnerability is linked to our state of leadership. Learning from the past and being better prepared for the future is a leadership challenge. We can be certain that future will test us again and again in this regard.

The CCL report Stepping into the Void can be downloaded at: http://myccl.ccl.org/leadership/pdf/research/SteppingIntoVoid.pdf

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