People love to ask questions on the internet.
It’s a powerful and often quick resource when you need an answer to any number of life’s burning questions:
What does it mean when you see a cardinal?
What should I do with my hands?
When’s the best time to watch the sunrise? (It depends)
Where’s my tax refund? (That’s a good one)
There’s myriad answers to these and many others questions, from expert voices and from those that are, shall we say, not so expert-like. Then there are the heavier questions that never make it to the web. They happen too quickly and the answers are somehow proffered too late. So we rely on what’s in front of us and what we know.
Such is the case of those tasked with running toward stressful and uncertain situations when many of us would rather run away. In cases like these, you do your best to run with what you’ve learned, and above all, keep your head about you to actually apply your training.
So, what do you do when a child finds his way into a gorilla exhibit at the zoo, and the primate, typically considered “safe,” is now dragging him around the enclosure?
That question isn’t anywhere on the internet – at least as far as I know – but that event and other emergencies that have unfolded over the last several weeks share several commonalities including distress and uncertainty. And all of them required decisive action and were testing points for emergency responders and personnel to put into practice what they’d learned through training.
This was certainly the case with the May 28 incident at the Cincinnati Zoo.
There, zoo security staff made the decision to shoot and kill a western lowland gorilla named Harambe who had a 4-year-old boy in his grasp. It was unclear whether Harambe, part of a severely endangered species, intended to hurt the little boy. From what I’ve read, captive gorillas have actually protected children into their enclosures, on at least two occasions. But action called, then and there.
Couldn’t they have tranquilized him? I asked myself when I initially heard the news. Wouldn’t zoo protocol promote practices that protect animals rather than endanger them? A deluge of critics felt similarly and then some, shaming the zoo for its actions and calling on child protective services to investigate the mother of the child for neglect. Cincinnati Zoo leadership later said that tranquilizing the 17-year-old animal was risky and could have put the child in even greater danger. The security staff acted appropriately in this situation, the zoo said, and experts including Jack Hanna and Jane Goodall agreed. I don’t know what was going through the minds of the staff in the moments before the gorilla was shot but I am certain multiple stressors were present and in spite of them, tough choices had to be made.
Training exists for a variety of reasons often supporting the mission and values of organizations. It’s there to protect the people being served, to protect the people delivering the service. Training is there to protect and grow organizations. It can be created to address past incidences that undermined the work of a company as well as work to prevent such incidences from happening to begin with.
While we would all like to believe our best and most cogent selves come to the table to make the best decisions in tough situations, in life and in business, how many of us can truly say that happens?
Training also exists to meet that reality. Because the unexpected happens – it always does. And the power of what’s been learned is tested. Often it wins and, admittedly, sometimes what we’ve learned struggles to keep its footing in our minds as we process the energy around us and deal with internal chemicals that threaten to triumph.
Traversing this world full of increasing uncertainty, I think there’s at least a couple things we can do to help ourselves and others to work within it: We can practice being compassionate toward transparent and rational decision makers – ourselves and others – confronted with the need to make high-stakes choices in times of great intensity. And we can do our best to ensure that organizationally, in addition to being clear on our values and expectations, we place a high priority on aligning with people who share those values.
That’s where we can get together around choices we make when faced with the unknown. This makes learning that much easier; it also strengthens our collaborative responses to the unexpected.
Bravetta Hassell is an associate editor for Chief Learning Officer. To comment email editor@CLOmedia.com.Filed under: Leadership DevelopmentTagged with: compassion, decision-making, leadership, stress