Leading Through A Fire

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“Devastating fire destroys thousands of Canadian homes.” “Man watches as home burns to the ground.” “Over 80,000 forced from home due to fire.” These are just a few headlines making news around the world since the Fort Mac fires first began.

On May 1st, my heart sank as I read about the destruction and people who had been displaced. Since then, I was also constantly reminded of the strength and bravery in our province. And...as I reflect on the events of the past few weeks, I can’t help but reflect on what we can learn about the metaphorical ‘leadership through a fire.'


Fort McMurray fire chief, Darby Allen, was responsible for evacuating 88,000 people to safety and has been hailed as a hero by many. Chief Allen has worked tirelessly to effectively communicate the needs of the community to various business leaders throughout the area. Communication is a key aspect during any event, but when a situation is literally life or death, effective communication should be a top priority.


Compassion has been a consistent theme throughout many of the Fort McMurray fire stories. 

Principal Laura Dennis was responsible for organizing staff and transporting over 70 children to a safe location. Her quick, and calm thinking saved the lives of the elementary children under her care. Laura said, “The first inclination...go and get your family safe, right? But if we hadn’t had the teachers stay, and we didn’t have that many cars, we probably would not have gotten those children out safely.”

The story of a recent Syrian immigrant’s support also caught the attention of so many. Mr. Khanchet created a Facebook page, urging other Syrians to give anything that they could. “It’s not easy to lose everything. We can understand them more than anyone in Canada. We were in the same situation.” He claims he had to do something because he knew what it was like to flee his home with practically nothing.

When times are tough, it is important for leaders to put themselves in the shoes of their employees.

Imagine what others are going through – their fears, worries and anxiety around what will come next. The difficult moments - that’s when we most need compassion. Regardless of the situation, never compromise in order to reach your end goal.


Nurse Sherrie Whiffen was accustomed to yearly evacuation drills, but as smoke billowed in the horizon, she knew this was the real thing. Starting with the long-term patients on the fourth floor, Nurse Whitten calmly assisted with evacuating all 105 patients along with staff from the hospital. While the smell and sight of the fire blazing was terrifying, Whitten says stayed calm under pressure.

Despite the external chaos, she kept others around her at ease. While people could smell the smoke and see the fires, their responses were controlled thanks to this woman's attitude and response.

Communication, compassion and remaining calm under pressure are the foundation for successfully transitioning through any difficult period.

Communication, compassion, calm

Whether you are leading a team of individuals or navigating through your own leadership struggles, both will require you to become an expert in all three aspects. While fires continue to blaze, the spirit of Alberta and its residents have only been made stronger by the devastating events that have taken place.

Neighbours, business owners and even strangers have rallied together to provide for one another and rebuild. The foundation of Alberta is its people. Their compassion and unwavering fearlessness is unmatched and both qualities are vital during this difficult time.

May our #AlbertaStrong values be nurtured when we things get tough and tough times get tougher.

Let's not forget that an organization is only as good as the people in it. And during those times may those 3 Cs – Communication, Compassion and Calm, define our approach.