When I was in New York City a couple years ago, I had the pleasure of participating in a presentation given by a company that helped clean up after the 9/11 attacks.
Maxon’s is a restoration contractor — the kind of company insurance companies call in to restore things after a disaster.
The owner of the company told the conference audience about the role they played in cleaning up lower Manhattan after the World Trade Center towers were destroyed.
When the two towers collapsed into a burning inferno of rubble, we all vividly recall the images chiseled into our memories of the thousands of fleeing people being chased by mountainous clouds of dust and debris.
That dust was more than two million tons of pulverized concrete, glass, metal, soot, asbestos, insulation and many other microscopic materials which blanketed lower Manhattan with up to three inches of toxic powder.
That powdery cocktail of filth blew into every nook and cranny of hundreds of buildings: the homes and workplaces for more than 270,000 people.
Manhattan was totally shut down: every road, every bridge, every train and every subway. Police and National Guard roadblocks were set up everywhere. No one really knew what was going on, nor what needed to be done.
What Maxon’s did know was there would be a massive amount of cleanup work that would need to be done — the scope and scale of which was beyond anything they had ever seen or dreamt of.
This nightmare was unlike anything the citizens of New York could comprehend. It was utterly overwhelming.
It was a 21st century Pompeii.
At the time, Maxon’s had less than 30 employees. Over the course of less than a week they secured a labour pool of 1,600 workers. They brought in the equipment necessary to put them all to work, the containers to house the equipment and the property to locate the containers.
They instituted a military-type command structure to tackle the overwhelming work load they anticipated would soon inundate them.
They prepared and they waited…
The preparations themselves were overwhelming, but it was nothing compared to what they experienced when they were first allowed into Manhattan.
A sense of hopelessness and despair began to blanket them as they saw firsthand the devastation of the aftermath.
How on earth could they do what needed to be done?
The owner, who was co-ordinating the response, said he almost felt paralyzed by the enormity of the task. Where do we start? He then remembered the old adage: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
He thought, “I know, we can clean one room at a time.”
So, they started with one room, then another, then another; the momentum began to build, and confidence began to grow.
They ended up cleaning more than 4,000 residences and businesses with tens of thousands of rooms containing hundreds of thousands of articles.
How many of you are feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of the “clean up” that needs to take place in your life, your leadership or your business.
Perhaps your habits, relationships, character, beliefs, and attitudes need some significant restoration and you are feeling paralyzed by the enormity of the task.
Maybe your leadership needs a complete overhaul? Maybe you are in the midst of a significant corporate downsizing, a corporate restructuring, a merger or acquisition, or a major growth initiative?
Whatever the overwhelming circumstance is that you may be facing, whatever it is that is striking fear into your heart, the Maxon Restoration Principle is applicable.
How do you work through your overwhelming situation?
One room at a time.
What is the one room in your life, your leadership or your organization you can start to clean up in the midst of the overwhelming circumstance in which you find yourself?
It takes courage to begin a task that feels overwhelming, but easier if you take it one room at a time. One day you will look back at the circumstance you once felt overwhelmed by and it will not seem so insurmountable anymore, because you have overcome it.
You can do it — one room at a time. Now let’s get started on the clean up.
David speaks and writes on Wholehearted Leadership and helps CEOs lead and live wholeheartedly through The Executive Committee Canada. He can be reached through WholeheartedLeaders.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.