You're driving down the road. Suddenly, a scene of utter chaos unfolds before you: a wrecked car flipped on its side, its contents sprawled across the tarmac. Panic-stricken bystanders, desperately trying to make sense of the situation. Who takes charge in such a scene? Is it the eldest person? The one with the best title or the most experience? Not necessarily. This tale, a real-life account of a dire situation, unfolds three essential lessons about leadership and a bonus insight that ties them all together.
1. Leadership Is About Owning the Moment, Not the Title
Cue my father, my boss, a man three decades older than me. He radios from his car, "CJ, get up here quick!" In this simple directive, he unwittingly encapsulates the heart of leadership: Show Up or Step Aside.
Despite being my senior, he recognized that my military and first aid training made me the most capable leader in that moment. It didn't matter who was older, who had a better job title, or who had more life experience.
In leadership, authority doesn't always come from your title or seniority. It emerges from your ability to rise to the occasion, make quick decisions, and take responsibility.
In a split second, as I stepped out of my vehicle, I had to assume control, knowing it was now my situation to manage until someone more qualified arrived.
2. Leadership Is About Delegating, Not Dictating
Next, I delegated tasks, ensuring the car was secure, fire extinguishers were ready, and first aid kits were accessible. Approaching the group of panic-stricken onlookers, I assessed the casualties: a man on the windshield in critical condition, another trapped behind the wheel.
We were isolated, with no reception to call for help, and the danger of passing traffic looming over us.
In less than a handful of minutes, I had the traffic controllers setting up a roadblock, two people headed to town for help, and a makeshift emergency response team in place. It wasn't a dictatorship; it was a co-operative effort.
The act of delegating tasks, not dictating them, is central to effective leadership. Leaders harness the unique skills and capabilities of each team member, turning a group of individuals into a cohesive, action-taking unit.
3. Leadership Is About Knowing When to Step Aside
The situation took a turn when an off-duty firefighter, skilled in rescue operations, arrived at the scene. He suggested a different plan, and despite leading the initial response, I had to step aside. We deliberated, considered contingencies, divided resources, and briefed the teams. In that moment, I recognized that leadership also means knowing when to step back and let others take the lead.
We were strangers, plunged into a situation none of us had anticipated, but our swift and effective teamwork might have suggested otherwise. The ordeal progressed, another victim emerged from the surrounding bushland, and despite our best efforts, the man I'd been giving CPR to didn't make it. But none of us ever stopped trying, right up until the paramedics arrived.
Bonus Lesson: Leadership Is Steeped in Empathy and Fortitude
Let's revisit a pivotal piece of wisdom that this event illuminated. In the aftermath, weary and coated in a blend of sweat, blood, and the weighty toll of loss, a powerful truth about leadership revealed itself. Leadership is as much a journey of empathy and resilience as it is a display of assertive action.
It's about penetrating the emotional landscape of your team, reacting with understanding, and knowing when they need a morale boost or some breathing room.
On that day, the younger workers accompanying my father and I were struggling to accept the harsh reality that we couldn't save everyone. It would have been simpler to allow them to wrestle with it independently, but as their leader, their emotional wellbeing became my responsibility.
We invested considerable time and effort on that day and in the subsequent months to ensure they were coping. We peeled back the layers of the incident, unraveling the whys and hows, embracing vulnerability by sharing our individual struggles. By showing them they weren't alone in their feelings, we fostered a shared understanding and communal resilience.
The tireless effort exerted during the CPR process, despite the tragic outcome, was an embodiment of our collective fortitude. It's the knowing that we did everything within our power that offers solace and allows us to tread through the emotional tidal waves of grief.
Reflecting on that harrowing day and the lessons it taught me about leadership, I'm reminded that our journey is always evolving, and so is our understanding of what it truly means to be a leader.
Leadership isn't about age, titles, or past accolades. It's about showing up when you're needed, delegating effectively, knowing when to step aside, and having the fortitude to empathize with those around you, even in the midst of chaos.
We must strive to create impact every single day, however big or small. It's my personal goal to create a million hours of impact, and I believe we all possess the power to inspire and make a difference in our own unique ways.
Whether you're a stay-at-home parent, a manager, an entrepreneur, or an athlete, you have the potential to change your life and the lives of those around you. We're all leaders in our own right and it's our duty to ensure we're continually evolving and improving, not just for ourselves, but for the betterment of the world around us.
I want to leave you with this thought: to be a leader is to be a visionary and a doer, to dare greatly and to dream big. It's about stepping into the uncomfortable and doing what scares you.
And that's precisely what I'm doing - stepping into the unknown, setting myself the mammoth task of running 60km a day for 30 days in an effort to raise $100,000 for men's mental health. Because those who dream need those who dare.
Let's always remember - our biggest accomplishments often come from our greatest challenges. And that sometimes the most difficult roads lead to the most beautiful destinations.
Keep pushing forward, keep leading, keep daring. This world needs more leaders who are willing to step up, and less who are willing to step aside. Let's rise together. The journey starts now.
As I look back on that harrowing day, these lessons resonate with me more than ever. Leadership isn't confined to a boardroom, a battlefield, or a political arena; it's the capacity to rise to a challenge, to inspire cooperation, and to act with empathy, even in the face of adversity.
Remember, leadership isn't about being the oldest, having the fanciest title, or boasting the most experience. It's about recognizing a need and stepping up to fill it. So, whether you're on the job, at home, or even at a crash scene on a desolate highway, you can seize the moment and lead.
At its core, leadership is an attitude. It's a choice that each of us can make at any moment, whether it's to take charge in a crisis, delegate responsibilities to others, step aside when someone more qualified steps up, or show empathy and resilience when the people around you need it most.
These lessons are universal. They apply whether you're an intern or a CEO, a rookie or a veteran, a student or a teacher. We all have opportunities to lead in our lives; the question is, will we step up when those opportunities present themselves, or will we step aside and wait for someone else to take the reins?
That's your choice to make, your journey to undertake. Just remember, no matter your age, your title, or your experience, you have the potential to lead. Embrace it, and who knows where it could take you.
Until next time, folks, stay safe and remember - Show Up or Step Aside!