Leadership In (And Through) Crisis

Normally, our way of getting through life is procedural. Wake up, take a shower, get changed, go to class. We operate in these procedures and, because they’ve been ingrained, we often don’t even think to challenge them. One of the great things about trying situations, however,  is that they force us to answer questions we hadn’t never thought to ask- and, in doing so, provide the potential to change the way we operate on a day-to-day basis. The response of Rutgers (from students and administrators alike) to Hurricane Sandy exemplifies this concept of innovation by necessity.

The to-do list: our best friend (and worst enemy?)

Rutgers’ pre-planning for Hurricane Sandy (and, for that matter, natural disasters as a whole) left much to be desired. However, this was a call to action- because Rutgers students and administrators did not have a clear plan of action in a time when one was needed, it highlighted the need for said plan. The lack of pre-planning, however, did not stop leaders from stepping up to the challenge Sandy presented. Any student paying attention saw tremendous examples of leadership throughout the storm. Despite the limited communication platforms post-Sandy, student leaders and administrators alike were able to provide services to students that helped to fill voids that may have been left by the hurricane.

And the services were extraordinary. For students, some of whom were struggling with situations at home, to bind together and find a manner in the way they did to benefit others was inspiring. RUSA, in coordination with RHA, OCSA, and others, worked to provide students with 24-hour access to student centers so that students without power, water, or internet had someone warm and well-lit to stay through the night. Additionally, these groups acted to get buses to drive individuals unable to reach food to ShopRite so that they could take care of those needs. Finally, RUSA hosted a free dinner to provide warm meals to students who may have been struggling at home or did not have access to a usable stove.

Examples like the bus service to the supermarket and the hot dinner provided by RUSA exemplify this leadership in crisis- and, additionally, can inspire ideas for student organizations to employ in a more regular context. Because of the clear need and short timeframe for services that students needed, ideas moved very quickly from the planning to the execution stage. That being said, they were still extremely well-run, and clearly made a difference to the lives of students negatively affected by the hurricane.

Might we find new uses for buses at Rutgers?

However, now that we have moved out of the crisis situation caused by Hurricane Sandy, I believe it’s time to look back at those programs and see if any can be slightly adjusted or manipulated so as to provide substantial utility to the student body during the school year. I believe that running buses to grocery stores, given that it was well-publicized, could be a great event, and I saw the legitimate thankfulness of those who came from homes without power for hot food. Understanding that Student Life at Rutgers is in many ways unknown, our responses to the events of Sandy helped put us on the map- and, if done correctly, a continuation of these programs could prove fruitful in a long-term way.

Finally, it’s important to acknowledge the work that individuals across the board did in helping to hold to each of the events directed towards regaining a sense of normalcy post-Sandy. These students and administrators were leaders in the truest sense of the word- without desire for recognition or compensation, they gave their time and energy to benefit others who did not have what they did. Needless  to say, the example that these leaders set illustrate another reason why natural disasters need not be organizational disasters as well.

And although the work done by individuals was inspiring, it was—in a way– entirely predictable. In “Influencer”, a reading assigned this semester to our Student Leadership Course, the authors discuss how important it is that individuals do work that matters to them for its own sake. In a section titled “Connect To A Person’s Sense Of Self”, we hear an example of a mathematician who struggled over a difficult and famous problem and eventually solved it- not for the recognition or awards, but only because he wanted to. I believe that throughout Hurricane Sandy, we saw individuals taking action in ways that drove their passion. As the authors write, “People stimulate this internal motivation by investing themselves in an activity. That is, they make the activity an issue of personal significance.” Because individuals were able to find personal significance in the process of helping others, Rutgers responded to crisis in a manner we can all be proud of.

As Vince Lombardi once said, “It’s not whether you get knocked down; it’s whether you get back up.” In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, we saw Rutgers rise to the aid of individuals in need. Lessons have been learned, and should a natural disaster return again I am confident that Rutgers will be better prepared. I am even more confident, however, that should the need rise, leaders at Rutgers- student and professional alike- will be more than up to the challenge. I am confident that, as the alma mater says, Rutgers’ name shall never die.

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