Lesson Learned from Winter Storm Uri: Prepare, Pivot, and Persevere

Ryan McGrath
Mar 16, 2021
min read
Lesson Learned from Winter Storm Uri: Prepare, Pivot, and Persevere

As a proud Houstonian, the recent weather crisis quite literally hit home for me and my family. Like many Texans, we were left with no electricity, no water, and, at best, spotty cell service. All Zoom calls and business meetings were cancelled. Life was, yet again, put in perspective. It was another opportunity to prepare, pivot, and persevere. As a result, I want to share a few leadership lessons my team at Asset and I learned.  

1. Preparedness is the antidote in crisis moments

The trite saying we all know goes, “Hope for the best; prepare for the worst.” On February 14th, the “worst” struck our community. Thankfully, at Asset, we were prepared. Our teams not only remained calm, but insisted on putting the needs of others ahead of their own. I’m deeply humbled to lead a company in which our bond is akin to that of a family. Contingency plans were activated, managers led with a level of decisiveness and compassion that left me feeling inspired. As a CEO, it reaffirmed what I already know to be true:the unshakeable value of hiring the right people, training them effectively, and then trusting them to do their jobs.

2. Lead through people

Leaders that recognize they can’t do it all, are leaders that forge success by creating world-class teams—clusters that work together and separately to meet business goals or combat crises. For a business to both scale and persevere, a CEO must choose to stop leading people and start leading through people. Leading people is the equivalent of being a team captain, leading through people is the equivalent of being a coach. Once you make the transition from captain to coach, the payoff for your organization will be apparent. When I lost communication capabilities for 48 hours during the outage, I knew I had leaders at various touch points who were able to make critical decisions in my stead. PR teams initiated a crisis response, operations teams mitigated risk to properties and cared for the safety of residents, legal teams put insurance carriers on notice, and HR teams conducted head counts to ensure everyone was accounted for. As simple as it sounds, everyone just did their job.


3. Empathy and humanness come first

As a CEO, I’m often inspired by the people I lead. Their selfless actions during Winter Storm Uri reinforced why empathy is a business imperative, particularly in crisis. Members of the Asset team put the needs of residents, neighbors, and colleagues ahead of their own. Team members were offering heat and hot water to others—many of them could have elected to stay home, but instead they desired to help. It is clear to me that the employees at Asset view their jobs not just as places they work, but communities they are a part of. For that, I’m humbled. In moments of crisis, humanness comes first, the business comes second—because without the people, there would be no business.


4. Have a plan, but be ready to pivot

We naturally want to avoid unnecessary risk, particularly when there’s a lot at stake. Unfortunately, there’s no way to have all the necessary data when devising a plan during crises. Recognize that you likely can’t mitigate all risk, and that you will have to make difficult decisions, because, as a leader, that is inherently your role. You can prepare, but as new information becomes readily available, you will likely need to pivot. In other words, be prepared to modify your initial plan. If you favor rigidity over adaptability, failure may find you. A crisis forces you to make tough calls without having all the relevant information; so, as leaders, it is our job to act swiftly, remain nimble, and ultimately mitigate as much risk as possible.


5. Gratitude is vital in business and in life

If anything, the last year has clarified the many reasons I’m grateful: the opportunity to lead over 4,000 of the brightest and the best, a loving family, and two incredibly cool dogs. This gratitude carries with me into every business pitch, team meeting, and family dinner—and it is with me now as I reflect on the storm. As humans, we’re quick to take the mundane facets of our life for granted—myself included. I put in work daily to remind myself there’s so much to be thankful for. Because as leaders, we can prepare and pivot all we want, but to truly persevere we need to ground ourselves in gratefulness.

To conclude, I’d like to extend a long overdue and heartfelt thank you to every city official, utility worker, first responder, medic, andvolunteer that worked tirelessly to keep our community safe. Your resilience isan inspiration to us all.

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