Have you ever unexpectedly found yourself in a crisis when you were not prepared? Or a time when you expected someone else to be in charge and instead found out you were responsible?

Well, in 2017 found myself in that exact situation. Now I know you’re wondering, what happened? Well, there was this little storm called Hurricane Irma…

Leading shelter volunteers.

Hurricane Irma was a catastrophic storm. It caused devastating damage to the Caribbean and Florida. The Category 5 hurricane reached its peak with winds recorded at 185 mph making it the strongest hurricane of our time. As a Category 5 hurricane, Irma caused catastrophic damage in Barbuda, Saint Barthelemy, Saint Martin, Anguilla, and the Virgin Islands.

When the storm reached the Florida Keys, Irma was a Category 4 with 130 mph winds. The predicted track of the storm would bring Irma through the center of Florida and cover the entire state. In preparation for Irma, my site was activated as a shelter for evacuees.

Assessing storm damage.

As a shelter, our primary function was to provide a clean and safe facility for evacuees.

According to the protocol, once the shelter is activated it is to be staffed and operated by the Red Cross. However, due to Hurricane Harvey’s impact on Texas and the size of Irma, the Red Cross was not available to run the shelter.

When I arrived at our site to begin shelter preparations, I was greeted by 30 evacuees and several volunteers. When I asked if the Red Cross had arrived the answer was a disappointing no! After waiting two hours, I was informed the Red Cross would not be available.

Well, you know what happened next. Everyone looked at me to lead them! As the site leader, I was expected to run the shelter. Fortunately, a Red Cross “shelter box” had been dropped off. As I stood there looking at the box, volunteers and evacuees, I had a difficult choice to make.

What was the choice? Option A – I could step up and lead or Option B – I could wring my hands and complain.

Leading shelter operations (giving orders)!

Well, you know which option I chose. Option A of course. Why? Because leaders lead! I also understood I would be wasting precious time wringing my hands and complaining because I would still be in charge!

So, I broke the seal on the box and we officially opened as a shelter. Over the next 96 hours, we welcomed, sheltered, feed, and cared for evacuees.

Leading a shelter was quite a challenge, especially once we lost power. Fortunately, the backup generators provided emergency lighting!

Once the storm passed, we transitioned to a long-term shelter, and the Red Cross arrived! When we finally shut down shelter operations, we had hosted more than 1,200 evacuees, 12 security officers, six EMTs, three custodians, six food service personnel, and countless volunteers.

Evacuees in the foodservice line.

As I reflected on the shelter experience, I realized Hurricane Irma had been a situation where I modeled my leadership philosophy. What is my leadership philosophy? To lead by example! One of my favorite quotes is:

“Leaders lead by example, whether one intends to or not”

Author Unknown

Now, when you’re facing a crisis as a leader, what can you do to increase your chances of success? The following are five leadership lessons I learned from Hurricane Irma:

  1. Over-communicate
  2. Manage expectations
  3. Create win-win solutions
  4. Walk slowly and take time to encourage and thank people
  5. Take care of yourself and your team

Always remember you’re the leader and everyone is watching you!

Making a “storm update” announcement.

As a leader, it’s not a matter of “if” you will face a crisis but “when.” The question is how will you respond?

During Hurricane Irma, I was responsible for the safety of everyone who came to the shelter. They were all looking to me to reassure them and keep them safe. I felt as if they were trusting me with their lives…

I am pleased to say our team rose to the occasion! As the evacuees left, they thanked us for our care. While Hurricane Irma left a path of destruction, she also taught me several leadership lessons.

Members of the shelter team.

What leadership lessons have you learned during a crisis?


View the “MOORE Leadership Moment” podcast HERE

Lead Confidently | Expand Influence | Achieve Significance

  • Oh my goodness, Dr. Kim. I knew you led this effort, but I didn’t know what “leading the effort” truly looked like. I enjoyed and was encouraged by your words and your 5 leadership lessons. I appreciate you!

  • I really appreciated this take on your experience! And this picture of you. Up until now I have been reading about your leadership ideas but have been on the fence about you. I think it has been the picture you often display. This is feet on the ground pictures and a story I appreciated! Thank you for what you do.

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    About the author

    Hi, I'm Kim, Your Leadership Guide. I equip aspiring leaders to lead with confidence, emerging leaders to expand their influence, and accomplished leaders to achieve significance!