Last week, I attended the Nashville Chamber of Commerce CEO Speaker Series featuring Colin Reed, Chairman and CEO of Gaylord Entertainment.  Reed is a very good speaker and he spent the morning with an audience of 200 sharing some lessons he learned following the flood in Nashville in May 2010.  If you have not seen the pictures of the water that overtook the Gaylord Opryland hotel, then click here.

Reed did not show up last week to tout his leadership abilities.  But if you listened carefully, you learned a few lessons in leadership when faced with an emergency.  These include:

  • The time for creating an emergency plan is not during the emergency.  There are going to be obvious and not-so-obvious things to do before an emergency occurs.  One of the most obvious preparations that can be done is to prepare an emergency manual that outlines the potential "events" and "responses."   As a developer or contractor, you can prepare a manual that outlines how your company and employees should respond to a work site accident involving a fatality, or unusually severe weather, or other "unexpected" event.
  • Build the "right" culture of leaders, management and employees.  For Reed, this meant being purposeful in getting "the right people on the bus" or finding competent leadership.  It also meant creating an environment where the workforce loves their work and the customers they serve!  Just like the hotel industry is based upon customer service and satisfaction, so too is your construction company, property management group, or banking institution.
  • Communication has to be direct and honest during an emergency.  Reed and his staff learned that some of the information being reported about the status of the flood was flawed.  In one communication, he heard that the river was rising and that they had problems.  In another communication, he heard that water levels had ceased and he did not have to worry.  The lesson for Reed: "You cannot rely 100% on the information given to you."  But the lesson was also equally clear that the information that his company had to report needed to be direct and honest in all respects.  Some of the guests were not happy to have been evacuated late in the evening on Sunday night. When Gaylord reported that the hotel lobby was six feet underwater, Reed said, "You could have heard a pin drop.  It was at that moment these customers realized that this was, indeed, really serious."  
  • Out of chaos comes opportunity.  This was perhaps Reed’s best advice, commenting: "We are a better company because of what we went through."  The chaos of the flood and the more than $20 million in renovations have given Gaylord an opportunity to be a stronger and more successful company.  Although more than 1,700 employees were laid off, it gave Reed and his leadership an opportunity to do the right thing by offering severance pay and three months of health care.  Many of those employees look forward to the coming months as the company begins to rehire up to 80% of its former employees.

Reed concluded that if Gaylord didn’t have the right plans, adequate resources and amazing people during this crises, things would have been wholly different.  Gaylord intends to spend millions to celebrate its re-opening in style in November.

Image: mas90guru