IMG_4185Unprintable words are flying in Atlanta right now in the wake of this week’s epic failure of leadership. Maybe you’ve heard about our 2.7” snowfall and the gridlock it caused?

This circus was brought to you by a mayor and governor who couldn’t see trouble coming, even as the National Weather Center screamed like Chicken Little.

  • Sunday midday: hazardous weather outlook issued.
  • Sunday afternoon: Upgraded to winter storm watch.
  • Monday morning: Winter storm watch expanded to include the entire metro Atlanta area.
  • Tuesday, 3:38 am: Upgraded to a winter storm warning for all of metro Atlanta, with indications of significant amounts of snow accumulation leading to dangerous roads.

And yet business and schools commenced Tuesday as regularly scheduled.

Atlanta TrafficBy late Tuesday morning school and office closing announcements started. At 12:30 snow started falling. Parents had to either go get their kids from school or get home to meet them. The result was a clusterBLEEP. blogger Mark Bradley grabbed a screenshot from his iPhone showing the damage done.

I don’t need to tell you about the next 12 hours—even folks halfway round the globe saw it on the news. Brief commutes turned into 12-hour marathons. Kids slept in schools if they were lucky, on busses if they weren’t. People slept in their offices or, if out on errands when the streets locked up, sheltered for the night wherever they were. My idea of a good time does not include a camp-out at CVS.

All this could have been avoided. Not easily, not completely, but enough to save Atlanta the black eye it is now sporting for all the world to see. Leadership starts well before the crisis hits. Winston Churchill said, “Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.” You prepare. How did Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed and Georgia governor Nathan Deal not get that memo? Bureaucrats from those top offices on down are now offering excuses and passing the buck to everyone up to and including Mother Nature.

True leaders plan, prepare, and execute. They make mistakes, but failure to plan is not one of them. When an outcome goes bad, true leaders own it, learn from it, and put the right people, processes and tools in place to improve performance the next time around. Whatever your crisis–an 0-ring on your space shuttle, a blowout on your oil rig, a slushy slick mess on miles of your streets and highways–crisis demands leadership.

IMG_4173The outcome of failure should not be a blame game. Atlanta got 4.4” of snow and ice in 2011. We had the same mayor. (Technically we had the same governor, too, but since the storm came just days after his inauguration, I’ll let him off the hook.) Kasim Reed is on TV spouting meaningless statistics and blaming everything and everybody except his own office. Bureaucrats are tripping over each other trying to distract, distort, and change the dialogue to point away from their own epic failure.

Let’s take a look at the consequences of this failure. This is Atlanta on an international stage. If I’m a business leader and I’m evaluating Atlanta for a relocation or conference—if this is how the local and state government functions—am I interested in placing my bet on that square? BLEEP no! I’ll go to Wichita. I’ll take my business somewhere I see a competent, capable government.

Atlanta is the town that hosted the Olympic games in 1996. Not only did we manage the logistics of tens of thousands of visitors and athletes, we did pretty well on disaster response during the Centennial Olympic Park bombing. I believe Atlanta is capable of greatness, but our current elected officials have lost my faith. Their 20/20 hindsight does not impress me. Where were you when you knew this was coming?

Admittedly, we only get snow like this every few years. It doesn’t make sense to invest in all the equipment upstate New York needs. But you can invest in some kind of a plan! Hoping for the best isn’t enough. Prepare for the worst, even if it means commandeering city garbage trucks to distribute salt and sand ahead of a storm. I’m afraid the bottom line is the bottom line here; our leaders simply did not want to spend the money to pretreat the roads.

The fundamental value of government is controlling chaos. We look to our elected officials for direction and guidance. The function of government is not to strand people for 24 hours after a storm far where they want or need to be.

It only took half an hour for Atlanta to go off the rails. It will take half a week to clean up the mess. Why are we dealing with this on the back end? Because of a fundamental failure to lead on the front end. Mayor Reed, Governor Deal: Shame on you.

Nour Takeaways

  1. The desperate misery in Atlanta this week could have been alleviated if leaders had planned, prepared, and executed appropriately.
  2. The outcome of failure should never be a blame game; if you contributed to it, own it.
  3. The repercussions of this week may be felt for years, simply because of our elected officials’ failure to proactively and wisely lead.
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