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Friday, August 30, 2013


When I teach aspiring principals each summer in the UT Austin Principalship Program, I share during each class meeting what I call “Rattlesnake Alerts.”  These scenarios consist of the unexpected challenges and disasters that present themselves to principals every working day of every school year.  It’s the kind of stuff you don’t find in textbooks, the bombshells that walk in the door on you without warning. 

Through the process of dissecting and analyzing these catastrophes it is my intention to guide future principals in developing a set of psychological, intellectual, and emotional skills which will help them successfully manage crises and lead others effectively “through the storm.” 

Two weeks ago, the concept of the Rattlesnake Alert took on new meaning for me as my youngest daughter (now a mother of three precious little girls) was bitten by a real rattlesnake.  After a life-flight on a helicopter, three days in intensive care, one more day in the hospital, and a week and a half of convalescence, she is still suffering some of the physical effects of the venom.  The amount of pain has been remarkable.  The psychological and emotional impact has been equally challenging.

Watching and helping my daughter cope with the derivative effects of a rattlesnake bite has reinforced in my mind several things about leadership and crisis preparedness:
  1. Those of us in leadership roles must always be duly diligent and alert to the “rattlesnakes” that live among us.  Even when others are not.
  2. Rattlesnake bites (and crises) always have rippling effects, even beyond those who were bitten.
  3. Thoughtful preparation for possible emergencies, upheavals, disasters, crises can make a profound difference on the response, survival and recovery of the individual and/or the group.
  4. Knowing where and from whom to seek support in the aftermath of a crisis (or rattlesnake bite) has great bearing on how quickly and how well recuperation occurs.  Having committed and knowledgeable mentors/responders is profoundly important.
  5. Thoughtful reflection (in the military they call these After Action Reports) can enhance our ability to weather the next storm (which is always looming on the horizon).  Effective leaders must take the initiative to engage in this reflective process with teams.
  6. Killing the rattlesnake does not alleviate the need for preparedness.  There are always more rattlesnakes in the vicinity (they live here, too).

My future students can expect a continued focus on Rattlesnake Alerts. 

Leadership is never needed more than when the organization, the team, the family, the relationship is under duress. 

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