Every person in Australia, and so many people globally, have been affected and impacted by the horrendous fires that have ripped through homes, properties and entire towns and communities since September.
The fires are unprecedented and tragically they are not over yet.
So many people have lost precious family members and livestock, thousands have lost not only their homes but their livelihoods, entire communities have been decimated. My heart goes out to all those people who have suffered such enormous loss.
In the weeks, months and years ahead it is on all of us who are lucky enough to have escaped the worst of these fires to support and care for those who are rebuilding and fighting on through what will continue to be incredibly difficult situations.
Much has already been said about the causes of these fires, about the responses of families, communities, the Firies and politicians. And much more will be analysed and said in the weeks and months ahead.
Four key lessons stand out for me already:
1. Human Beings are Incredibly Resilient
I am in awe of the reactions of so many people who have lost everything in the fires.
We see images of them looking at the smouldering remains of their home, removing their dead stock, seeing their burnt orchards, vines and plantations that have been their family’s livelihoods for generations, seeing the businesses they have built up destroyed. And these amazing people, young and old, stoically put their shoulders back and say through their grief, ‘We will rebuild, we will start again’.
What strength, what resilience, tenacity and courage. They epitomise the quote ‘You only have three choices in life: Give up, Give in Or Give it all you’ve got’.
2. Our Firies are Amazing
Not only have the fires never been this ferocious before, they have not lasted this long.
Our Firies continue to protect lives and properties day after day, that have turned into week after week and month after month. Their courage, commitment, fire-fighting skills and teamwork are outstanding.
3. People DO Care About Others
We speak regularly about how selfish and insular people have become, and young people often get more than their fair share of this criticism.
Actually people DO care, and they are showing that now, abundantly and in different ways.
There are so many fundraising efforts and donations of food, clothing and money, people are preparing and serving meals. They are opening up their homes, often to people they don’t know. People are desperate to get back home not just to check on their own property but to go and help their neighbours.
Long may we continue this, both because the people so badly affected by the fires will need the tangible help and moral support for many months, and because it reinforces that we are our best selves when we make a difference, willingly, to other people’s lives.
4. Soft Skills Make Strong Leaders
We have seen different styles of leadership from our Prime Minister, politicians and fire commissioners. Perhaps, more accurately, we have seen different quality!
I believe it has highlighted not just the importance of, but the absolute necessity for, high levels of soft skills (or what we like to call human skills) in order to show strong, genuine leadership.
Leadership is not only about the hard skills of organising resources and determining sound strategy. It is also massively about listening, showing empathy, displaying genuine care and respect for people, being honest and admitting your mistakes.
Our Prime Minister has been reminded of this the hard way, and his popularity has suffered significantly as a result. Time will tell if this is the beginning of the end for Scott Morrison, or if the ground he lost can be recovered.
Either way, the salient reminder for every person in a position of authority it is that while hard skills are incredibly important, it is soft skills that make strong leaders.