Staying Cool Under Fire (or Under Flood)

We had an exciting time on the old homestead this weekend: it started out quietly with a yoga class and a bottomless brunch celebrating a friend’s birthday, then my sister texted that mom was at the emergency room getting checked out for an arrhythmia, probably due to her self-un-medicating on her blood pressure medicine. [Both my parents decided to take themselves off core medicines in the last couple of years, both with disastrous results. I tell you now: if your doctor puts you on a medicine, don’t decide that you know better and stop taking it.] My sister reassured me that mom was getting the help she needed and things looked promising. I had just settled down for a long afternoon watching and writing about the Tour de France time trial when my husband called desperately from the bedroom.

“What’s all this water?”

Apparently, a pipe burst in my neighbor’s kitchen when she wasn’t home to notice and we ended up with a lake over an inch deep in the bedroom. I dug out all our spare towels (in a tiny New York apartment, you get creative about storage of lesser-used items; a creativity that makes extricating them take longer than desired in an urgency) and my husband began mopping while I called down to the concierge desk for help…

…Which took forever and several follow-ups to arrive. The only excuse for such a lack of urgency would be if the building staff was already helping tenants in the apartments beneath ours who had water dripping from the ceiling. [I heard later that the flood damaged apartments on five floors.] My husband wrung a wringer-bucket out of the staff and we worked as a team, using towels to soak up the water that was flowing in – honestly, I could see a current – from under the wall and across the bedroom floor towards the living room, wringing them, then reapplying them.

I knew the water was coming from next door. I could hear the water running through my neighbor’s door and worried that she had fallen in the shower or something. I told the concierge to tell the super to bring her key so he could get in but, when the super finally sauntered onto the floor, he didn’t have the key with him and turned to go downstairs to get it before even getting as far as her door, much less ours.

At this point, the neighbors on her other side popped into the hall to say that their entire studio apartment had flooded from side to side.

My husband and I mopped, wrung, emptied buckets, and mopped again. We dragged everything out from under the bed and moved the dressers to mop behind them. We grabbed all those piles of things that end up in spare corners of the room and flung them into the kitchen. Somewhere along the line, the super must have returned to her apartment – he never stopped by to update us – and shut off the water because the flow stopped and the mopping began to make a difference. We finally had time to move the mattress and box spring into the living room and mop up under the bed where the most water had ended.

We stopped for a breather and to take on fluids – it was over 90’ yesterday and, although the A/C was on, it was a HOT water pipe that broke and the water was still warm as it came under the wall. Then realized that it had flowed into three closets and dove in to rescue shoes, suitcases, and the comic book collection we keep forgetting that we need to do something about, and went back into rescue mode.

It’s amazing how a crisis focuses you. I may give in to stress while planning – I’m not a perfectionist but I do like my work to exceed expectations – and I hate the aftermath of a crisis: so much waiting, so much chaos that I want to do something about NOW. But during the heat of the crisis, time seems to slow down and calm descends on me. I move quickly, deliberately, I keep my head, and I get things done. It’s almost a relief not to give into panic when things are at their worst.

When you’re thrust into a crisis, there’s a fine art to keeping your calm while reassuring the people who depend on you. You may be calmly doing exactly what you should but, if your demeanor does not demonstrate a sense of urgency, if you don’t follow up to let your stakeholders know exactly how you have things under control, the perception will be that you didn’t understand the urgency.

Leading during a crisis, like so much of management, requires a certain modicum of politics. Just doing exactly what you should isn’t enough – you have to demonstrate that you are doing it, too. I’ve heard people complain that they don’t like office politics. For the most part, I don’t mind them, so long as they don’t get in the way of the real work. In my mind, office politics is just another way of saying managing people, managing expectations, keeping everyone in the loop about what you are working on, and being strategic about how you navigate the human interactions in your organization.

We slept in chaos last night, clearing just enough space among the mattresses, furniture, and piles of books to open the couch in the living room [Note to self, get a feather topper for the couch-bed; sorry recent guests!] to the tune of dehumidifiers and industrial fans working away in the bedroom and closets. At some point in the next week, we’ll start to put our life back into order again.

Until then, argggh!

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One thought on “Staying Cool Under Fire (or Under Flood)

  1. Pingback: Broken – Change+Management

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