On September 11, 2001 the twin towers in New York City collapsed under attack and thousands died. Only 4 people who were above the 78th floor in the South Tower survived. Brian Clark, then the executive vice-president of Euro Brokers, an international brokerage firm whose offices occupied the 84th floor of the South Tower was one of them.
Brian, despite being a senior executive, had volunteered to be the fire marshal for his floor. He never expected to be called upon but was ready never-the-less. When the first plane hit the north tower, Brian made certain that this firm’s 285 employees evacuated. Brian and the last few co-workers were preparing to leave when the second plane hit their building six floors below them. Ceiling tiles rained down and debris was tossed from everywhere. As the fire marshal, he was expected to lead and with a flashlight, he began to lead the way down darkened staircase A.
Clark said “We'd only gone down three floors to the 81st floor when we encountered a woman laboriously coming up the stairs with some others. They said they'd just come from a floor in flames and insisted on going up. It became quite an argument there on the stairs. I said we had to get below the flames. The lady was arguing with me but I just had this instinct that down was better than up.”
"Then I heard someone banging on the wall inside the 81st floor. They were screaming, 'Help me, help me. I can't breathe. I can't get out.' " Clark followed the cries and pulled wreckage away to free a man. By the time they made it back to the stairwell, everybody else had disappeared up the stairs. Despite the increasing smoke, Clark and the stranger he rescued started down the stairwell, clearing more debris for a few floors until they were able to continue down to safety. Leaders lead. They watched the towers collapse from just up the street.
Now it would be easy to say that Brian Clark was just lucky. Fortunate yes, but not lucky. It was his leadership that not only put him in a position to save others but to actually do it. He did more as a leader too. Representing his company, Brian attended the funerals of the 61 employees his firm lost. He then went on to assume the position of President of the relief fund that raised millions for those families.
Why is this an important story some 6 years later? Leaders lead. If you are a senior executive or even a strong middle manager, it isn’t enough to go with the flow. You have to make choices like Brian did and lead others to the appropriate course of action. You may not end up saving a life, but leadership is so necessary for the survival of your company. Companies without strong leadership are like rudderless ships.
How are your leadership skills? If you are feeling less than 100% competent, get yourself a coach or mentor who can help. In fact, a coach is a good idea in any event. Brian Clark had coaches.
Nice work, Brian Clark!
Maver Management Group
Maver Management Group