Let’s face it. Most of us like hearing what we want to hear vs. what we need to hear. The best leaders I know surround themselves with truth-tellers!
Last month, another once a decade cold front and snowstorm hit Texas, crippling the state’s power grid, causing widespread blackouts, bursting pipes, and exasperating an already difficult time in many people’s lives. As often happens in these situations, the blame game becomes a full-on and immediate political contact sport. One-liner campaign slogans attack everything from renewable energy to Texan’s pride in independence and sheer grit. Have you ever heard, “Don’t Mess with Texas?”
Many of its residents love the state’s low taxes, limited regulations, and the grit that is the fabric of its people. It’s a big reason the state attracts a lot of businesses, including Elon Musk recently. You may also know that Texas is the largest producer of energy in the U.S. Its culture of independence also dictates how it operates its power grid. The state’s energy sector is a mostly deregulated, market-based system. It’s also the only state disconnected from the U.S. national power grid, intentionally avoiding federal regulation.
As such, Texas can’t send or receive power to or from another state in case of an emergency. Like the recent storm. If you read and listen beyond the noise, the cause of the cold weather disruption was the state’s gas-fired power plants. They’re not insulated from record low temps. Since they provide the majority of Texas’ power, when the extreme cold causes a massive spike in demand at the same time the power supply collapses, that’s a recipe for disaster. No other state could help by sending power, causing rolling blackouts.
I’m a capitalist and a conservative at my core. As such, I sincerely believe in market-based systems, which have provided low-cost energy options here in Georgia, where I live, and in Texas for so many. Yet, without foresight and adaptation to supply and demand shifts, a market-based system can backfire. In Georgia, the “Snowmageddon” a few years ago caused massive chaos, havoc on our lives and demonstrated abysmal communication, collaboration, and problem-solving skills by local, state, and federal agencies. In Texas last week, it caused frustrating and outrageous surges in energy prices.
The natural disasters in Georgia and Texas highlighted the blame game’s popularity, which leaves out honesty and truth-telling. Particularly amid chaos, disasters, and despair, honesty becomes refreshing. These crises may be rare, yet they often highlight our past shortsighted decisions and the impacts they create down the road.
As Americans, our values drive our ability to adapt and overcome tragic situations. We learn, grow, and rebuild. Atlanta built plows to insert in front of our garbage trucks for the next storm. Texas will adjust its price regulations, insulate its power facilities, and connect to the national grid.
Our decisions in life always carry certain benefits and consequences. It’s certainly something that Wendy and I have tried teaching our kids for the past 20 years. It’s also a lesson every leader needs to impart to their teams. Some decisions reap incredible benefits in the long tail, only to suddenly fail. Sometimes decisions make a leader look like a hero or a goat through sheer luck or timing. As we all know, hindsight is always 20/20 and so clear; we wonder why we didn’t see it, or others didn’t think of it.
The key is not to fall into the trap of spending endless resources (time, effort, and capital) to respond to a rare crisis. Instead, I’m a big fan of consistency vs. creativity – investing consistently to upkeep, maintain, upgrade, and replace when necessary to prepare, protect, and preserve our way of life. Few support massive measures, and significant investments upfront to protect us from what is increasingly referred to as Black Swan Events – extremely rare occurrences we understand and know will happen but never know when or their impact.
The Georgia and Texas weather storms may have been rare tragedies. The lesson for all of us should be leadership failure to avoid difficult, uncomfortable, and even painful truths. Leaders should be honest about the facts – Atlanta was ill-prepared for the storm that everyone saw coming, and Texas’ previously poor energy decisions may have intensified their recent disaster. Transparency is the only way people, teams, and organizations can decide the right path forward and make the changes necessary to learn and grow from the experience.
Only when we stand up and admit that actions have consequences and making decisions that ignore extreme occurrences have significant adverse outcomes on human lives and livelihoods will we model the behaviors we need in our kids and our teams. We need to be willing to understand and accept the consequences of our actions. Our values at home and the culture we create at work should help us lean into our thoughts, words, and behaviors amid crises.
If you want to become a more decisive leader, if not a better human being, surround yourself with truth-tellers. Despite how uncomfortable what they say may feel.