Did you ever have to write an essay for school entitled “How I spent my summer vacation?” Well, if I were to write one this year, I would substitute the following article that appeared in the Thursday, August 4 issue of the Adirondack Daily Enterprise. Read the story and then we’ll look at some lessons and the relevance of those lessons to your business.
Rescued—Before Lightning Could Hit Again
By Laurie Besanceney
LAKE PLACID – As the sky grew darker over Mirror Lake Monday, as rain started falling and as thunder started rumbling in the distance, Michael Bryant knew he had to cut his swim short and head for shore.
Before he made it, though, lightning struck the lake.
Bryant, about halfway done with the 1.3 mile loop on the lake, said it felt like he had stuck his finger in an electric socket as the electricity coursed through his entire body.
Luckily for the Baltimore resident, who has a summerhouse in Wilmington and is training for next year’s Ironman, he had a guardian angel that day.
“I yelled for someone to come help me—I wanted to get out of the water,” Bryant said. With the thunder and heavy rain, however, he was afraid no one would see or hear him.
Kate Chilson, 20, was working at nearby Mirror Lake Boat Rentals. When rain started pouring down, she said, she and a friend heard someone screaming for help from across the lake. After trying to figure out what to do, they decided to go out on the lake because no one else was helping the man.
Chilson grabbed a plastic double kayak—and an extra life jacket and paddle—and headed out into the storm. Her friend, Abby Curran of Wilmington, followed behind in a single kayak just in case.
Not being a kayaker, Chilson said she was surprised at how fast she got out to Bryant, who was about three-quarters of the way across the lake. Chilson said Bryant was able to pull himself about halfway into the kayak while she sat in the back seat, and then she helped him all the way in, saying it was a “very sloppy process.”
“She’s a real hero,” Bryant said. “I didn’t want to be out there for another hit (of lightning).”
Chilson said Wednesday she wasn’t nervous going out to rescue Bryant because her adrenaline must have been rushing, but she knew if he had drowned and she hadn’t attempted to help him, she would have felt guilty.
When asked if she realized that she herself could have been killed by going out on a boat during a bad storm, she said, “It didn’t occur to me…It happened so fast.”
Back on shore, Bryant used Chilson’s cell phone to call his wife. Guests from the Hilton Hotel who had witnessed the action came over with dry towels for Bryant. A man in a rowboat had called 911. When the emergency service crews arrived, though, Bryant was already out of the water, thanks to Chilson.
Later that day, a friend asked Bryant if he was going to participate in the High Peaks Cyclery Mini-Triathlon held every Monday during the summer. He said “no,” he’d take a break from swimming in Mirror Lake for the rest of the day.
When Bryant’s family returned to Mirror Lake Boat Rentals Tuesday to thank Chilson, they discovered a strange coincidence: Bryant’s daughter attends the same small, liberal arts school—McDaniel College in Westminster, MD—that Chilson attends.
“It was very brave of her,” Bryant said, adding that young people are not often pointed out for their good deeds.
Lessons from the Lake
Hopefully you will never have a literal encounter with lightning. There are times, however, when “lightning” can strike your organization. You suddenly lose your largest account, one of your key employees leaves, or an idea in which you’ve invested significant time and money comes up empty. There are lessons from the lake that can apply to handling your own lightning strikes.
Change can happen suddenly
When I started my swim the skies were cloudy but hardly threatening. The storm came over the mountains in a matter of minutes. Sometimes a client can vanish without warning. Those who had dot.com clients in the late nineties know what I’m talking about.
When change happens, you need to develop a plan and focus on what you can control not on the chaos that may be happening around you
When the lightning hit the water (and then me), my focus was on trying to get out of the water as quickly as possible. I had no control over the storm. When change suddenly happens in your business, focus on the known. If a key employee suddenly leaves, make sure the remaining workers feel safe and cared about. If they have concerns about their future or the future of your department, discuss those concerns. If a key client walks, make sure the other clients are happy and start focusing on ways to replace the lost business.
In high school and college I was a water safety instructor. I knew better than most how dangerous it was to be in that water and how important it was to get help. It was a long way to shore and even though I’m a strong swimmer, I clearly cannot move faster than lightning. I knew I needed help and set about trying to find it. When change suddenly overwhelms your business, DON’T close your door and try to handle it alone. After 9/11 Southwest Airlines asked each of their 30,000 employees for suggestions to help win back passengers and restore confidence.
Learn from the experience
I now know that I have to be more aware of the weather when I swim. I need to make sure if I’m in the water that I have a quick way out of the water. The solution is not to stop swimming. It’s to become a more aware swimmer. If a large client leaves, maybe the lesson is not to have so many eggs in one basket. If a key employee suddenly departs, maybe the lesson is to make sure more than one person knows how to do the job.
Hopefully your business is experiencing “sunny skies.” However, the next time a “dark cloud” appears,
the lessons you just read might come in handy!