Get a leaders council ready: we can’t dodge bullets forever
Written by Michael Lewis on October 18, 2016
We just dodged a bullet. Hurricane Matthew went elsewhere.
We might dodge another next month. Maybe thousands of Haitian refugees won’t bear diseases spawned by the same hurricane.
We might dodge another bullet in December. We might not have a Zika expansion of epic proportions to devastate tourism.
We might dodge the bullet of sea level rise for a lot longer.
In fact, we might keep dodging bullets of every caliber for years and years – until we stop dodging them. Nowhere on the globe dodges bullets forever.
So the question is, what are we doing now, right now, to be ready for each and every bullet, just in case?
Bullets aren’t all lethal. There are silver bullets of opportunity, like a major corporate move to Miami or the chance to leverage a breakthrough in technology in ways we can’t even imagine or a program that could fund mass transit or workforce housing on a really large scale if we’re ready at the moment to seize the opportunity.
What all those bullets, positive and negative, have in common is we need a small, unified leadership planning for them long before a shot is fired. As far as I can determine, we have nothing like that.
Once, we did. Five leaders led by Alvah Chapman, publisher of the Miami Herald and later CEO of its parent company, called all the shots in Miami. What they wanted everyone did. It was not democratic or inclusive, but it worked.
So when 125,000 Cuban and 50,000 Haitian refugees and thousands from elsewhere landed in Miami in 1980, that group decided how to handle it – and we did just fine. Most of those refugees became solid citizens, not outcasts, and in record time.
Then in 1992 Hurricane Andrew hit us hard. Mr. Chapman again took the lead, formed We Will Rebuild and Miami-Dade again coped.
That was then. This is now. And I can’t spot a single person who could play the role that Mr. Chapman did. There is no undisputed unifier, not the mayor or his election opponent, not the head of any civic organization, no single corporate leader.
That’s no knock on anyone. We have very fine people in many positions. But none is an overall unifier.
We need, in short order:
1. Knowledge that a disaster plan in Miami-Dade covers every contingency and that all key players have agreed on their roles – including being the unifying leader.
2. Knowledge that a structure is ready to deal with a type of disaster that we don’t see coming.
3. Knowledge that the same team that is ready for disaster is ready for the big opportunity that might demand fast local action.
It’s OK to cite plans on paper, but we also need the leaders of key organizations on board, with their troops ready. That means big businesses too.
That’s tough to do in a city where transition is constant – the United Way, Beacon Council and Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce today are in search of CEOs. Even the mayor’s job is in play.
Given the vital need and the gaps, a very powerful informal council of five to seven people must share the role that Mr. Chapman once played. That group should be meeting today to assess needs and opportunities, social conditions included.
Unfortunately, that group by its nature can be neither chosen nor appointed. It can’t report to a mayor or an organization head who will help carry out the council’s aims. Nobody is powerful enough to appoint those five to seven persons except that group itself.
No, this handful of leaders must convene on its own. If you belong, you know it. I don’t have to name you; I couldn’t. But you’ve got the brains, clout and economic might to make decisions that others will carry out just as Alvah Chapman and his small team got things done.
There’s no democracy in this, no balance by location in the county or ethnicity or industry or anything else. There are only a handful of you, and you know if you belong.
Until the five to seven of you unite, we’ll muddle along as we do these days. A county committee will debate what to do and civic groups will lament decisions and when something does happen, for good or ill, we’ll do our best. We’re a pretty resilient bunch and we get a lot right even without central leadership. We’ll all just do as well as we can. Maybe that’s all we can expect.
But to do better than muddle through, the five or seven of you ought to be talking today and deciding that the community as a whole will be much better off with you taking an active role of leadership.
Nobody is going to elect you, appoint you, approve you or vet your tax returns. This is unofficial leadership, because we don’t have formal leaders to handle one of those big bullets that we don’t dodge – or those bullets of opportunity that we can’t afford to miss, either.
Nobody is going to put up a big sign that you’re doing what’s needed, either. We won’t know until a shot is fired, way too late for you to take the lead if you aren’t already active behind the scenes.
The best day for you to convene is today. Who knows when the next trigger will be pulled?