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Leading in Crisis

July 03 2017 - by Cecillia Carr, Senior Administrative Officer (Ag), Reform Management Unit (Dominica) and Cohort 4 Alumna

Exactly one month after the catastrophic impact of Tropical Storm Erika on our beloved Nature Island of Dominica, when I thought nothing else could be worse, I was hit by a whirlwind - the tail of which knocked me off my feet. No book or case study could ever prepare me for what I experienced. My mother - a true matriarch - came crashing down from ill-health.  As we attained multiple varied diagnoses that proved inconclusive, my life went from a state of normalcy to disaster - much like Tropical Storm Erika, the unsuspecting thief in the night.

Though we had been to several doctor’s appointments, it was the doctor’s visit of mid-September that left an especially devastating impact on me; and to this day, I can still see my mother’s eyes piercing in dismay as she raised her shoulders asking “what is it?” The health care practitioner, empathetic and thorough, pleaded with us to approve one final test which he assured us would provide all the information required to attain a proper diagnosis. Hopeful that we would attain an accurate diagnosis and plan of treatment, we conceded. However, my mother’s health rapidly deteriorated and in one week she required blood transfusions, lost all mobility and became almost bed-ridden. Something had to be done quickly!

Being the eldest among my five siblings, I called an emergency family meeting and four major decisions were taken:

  1. Mum was leaving for Martinique in three days
  2. She had to be transfused before we left Dominica
  3. A medical report had to be urgently solicited to facilitate overseas treatment
  4. She needed to be discharged from the hospital in time to take the ferry

The following day, I informed the local hospital doctors of our decisions and requirements. Amidst all of this, I had the heavy responsibility to lead Public Sector Reform and implement my Leadership Stretch Project (LSP). Thankfully, my team was very supportive throughout the entire ordeal, as everyone doubled up their work output and continued to work as a team despite my absence.

My journey took me to the French speaking territory of Martinique for the first time, and I was presented with the opportunity to put my Creole language skills into practice. I was the only member of the family fluent in the Creole language; and this worked wonders for me at La Maynard Hospital in Martinique.  It was there, at that hospital, that we received the horrific diagnosis that my mother, friend and confidant was facing the deadly illness of stage four cancer. My world tumbled, I lost weight, felt isolated, lost, sad and overwhelmed, but I had to face the doctors and health care providers to ensure the care of my mother. I never once thought of giving up. My siblings and I were all actively involved in the process of caring for our mother and we did everything humanly possible to ensure that we beat the disease.

Upon my return to work two months later, major activities were successfully undertaken with the support of my efficient team. In my absence, they ensured that maximum output was attained regardless of the situation, and they along with my siblings, served as my pillars of support through this extremely stressful time.

After six months, it was time for my mother to return from Martinique to Dominica. There was not a cure, and though devastated, with courage and faith in God, I accompanied her home.  She thanked God for me and blessed me - as was her custom - and asked me not to ever leave her. On 11th April, 2016, just over two weeks after her return to Dominica, my mother passed. May her soul rest in peace!

This was truly a test of my strength, resilience and ability to deal with stress and grief. I was presented with the challenge of functioning as an effective leader while enduring such a life-changing experience. I learned to persevere through trying times and to emerge strong.  One of my greatest lessons from this experience is that we must face challenges head-on, remain focused and persevere.  Ships do not sink because of the water around them; ships sink because of the water that overpowers them. Do not allow life’s challenges to break you down, rather be prepared to face them courageously!


Have you ever faced a difficult personal challenge as a leader?

How did it impact your work life?

What coping strategies did you find helpful?

To further discuss leadership in times of crisis, register now for CLP's upcoming webinar on this topic, which will be held on July 11, 2017 at 9:45 AM. Click here to register.

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