Even though it was the last minute, I decided to create a Leaders Connect Breakfast event over zoom to remember the tragedy which resulted in the loss of almost 3000 people, and the devastation to hundreds of thousands of family members and friends. To watch the zoom video, click HERE.
For me, 9/11 was personal. At the time of the event, I had a son living in New York City and working in financial news. He often covered events at the World Trade Center and we had no idea where he was on that morning. My wife, Pat, and I spent several hours trying desperately to reach Adam. It was not until 2 PM that day that we received word that he was okay. It was also personal for me because one of my coaching clients, Phil Lynch, on September 1st had assumed the CEO role for Reuters of America, a crucial news source, situated prominently in Times Square.
On the night of September 12th, I received a call from Sharon Greenholt, who was an HR specialist at Reuters, asking if I could provide her with any advice on how to deal with the tragedy that was unfolding within Reuters. Several of their employees were unaccounted for and others feared they had lost family members and friends in the disaster. Furthermore, they feared further attacks. Trauma and fear were rampant. I gave the best advice I could and volunteered to come to New York as quickly as possible to help their employees, many of whom I knew because I had been part of a leadership training for Reuters managers when they had come to the business school at the University of Michigan.
As I was unsuccessful at booking a flight to New York, a few days later I got into my car and drove to New York. As a psychologist and consultant, I was serving the city for much of the rest of 2001. During that time, Phil Lynch and I had become close friends and remain so to this day.
When I emailed Phil, who is now living in Zürich, to ask him to participate in the Leaders Connect zoom cast about remembering September 11, he was most eager to join.
The next person I called was Howard Cash. Howard is the founder and CEO of Gene Codes in Ann Arbor. Shortly after the attacks, Howard and his company were called upon to use their software to identify through DNA analysis the remains of thousands of victims of the attacks. I got to know Howard through my wife, Pat, who met Howard when she served as a psychologist for several months in New York as part of the Red Cross disaster team. Howard also readily agreed to be part of the zoom cast.
The third person I called was Dr. Constance Doyle, who at the time was an emergency physician at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor. Dr. Doyle was an attending physician on the Michigan Disaster Medical Assistance Team and spent a month right at Ground Zero attending to the emergency responders who were searching for remains. Daily, she witnessed the smoking piles that contained the remains of thousands of workers at the World Trade Center.
The fourth member of the panel was Jane Dutton. Jane Dutton was my personal advisor as I spent days in New York City after 9/11. I would call her every morning and she would give me support about my trauma relief work and organizational consulting I was doing. She was so impressed by my descriptions of how compassionately and effectively Reuters was working with its employees that she decided to come with her colleague, Ryan Quinn, to document Reuters response to 9/11. Jane, Ryan, and I subsequently published a case study of Reuters response to 9/11 through the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan School of Business. For those of you who are interested in reading the case study here is a link: https://wdi-publishing.com/product/the-heart-of-reuters-a/.
Even though the panel was put together in a hasty manner, we all felt we were successful in providing a compelling presentation to the 35 participants, who signed up at the last minute for the panel. Everyone agreed that it was important to revisit the events of 9/11 and to talk about how that event has shaped all of our lives in ways that sometimes we forget. It was also very moving for Phil, Howard, Jane, and I to reconnect and share once again our stories and our tears.
Today, as we are living through multiple traumatic experiences all at one time, I realize the importance of spending time reflecting on what is happening. That means sharing your experience with others, talking about your feelings, and if you are so moved, to express your stories through any artistic outlet that you find useful, be it writing, drawing, music, praying, or whatever you are drawn to.
Unlike the events of 9/11 which was over in a few awful weeks, today our traumas are ongoing. Sometimes the impact is immediate. Some have lost family members. Some have lost homes. Some have been hurt or made sick by the events. For others, the experience is a bit more remote. No matter what, it is important to recognize that we all share a common fear about what is going on now and a deep concern about what the world will look like if we are not able to find solutions to the problems facing us today.
We know that war is not the answer to today’s problems. In retrospect, we even doubt that it was the right response to 9/11.
I believe it is not enough to just worry about these problems. What is needed is action. I commend Phil Lynch, Pat Pasick, Howard Cash, Connie Doyle, Jane Dutton, and Ryan Quinn and thousands of others for taking action and risking their health in the aftermath of 9/11. I think they all will agree, as I do, that we are stronger as people and our lives are more meaningful as a result of having taken action.
So, as I end, may this be a call of action to you, my readers, my leaders, to consider specific actions you can take to address the problems we face today. It is through action that we can make the world a better place. Inaction will only be viewed by the generations ahead as cowardliness in the face of disaster. It may not be easy to know what is the right thing to do. You may not have time to do much. However, we can all do something to be more than so called “innocent” bystanders. Now is the time for action.