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Disasters bring out the leader in him

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

If, as the old adages go, 90 percent of success is just showing up, and 80 percent of leadership is caring about your people, Dr. Alan Manevitz is a successful leader.

A psychiatrist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Manevitz headed for Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina clobbered the Gulf Coast in August. Donning a Yankees baseball cap, Manevitz conducted triage and first aid on flood victims and persuaded a frail elderly woman that a hospital would be safer than her house.

He evaluated boys who fled a home for troubled teens. And he wrote a questionnaire for social workers trying to discern the sad from the suicidal.

Manevitz is familiar with the unpredictability of stress at disaster scenes, and is an expert on post-traumatic stress disorder, having seen it firsthand on Sept. 11, 2001.

After the first attack, Manevitz headed to Ground Zero, working the daisy chain of people passing along buckets of body parts. Then, he went to the command center.

In the men’s room, a senior officer walked up, put his head on Manevitz’s shoulder and started weeping. In less than a minute, the officer punched Manevitz in the shoulder, said “Thanks,” went out and started giving orders again.

Manevitz now understands a key aspect of leadership: that your mere presence in times of crisis is more important than your expertise.

“At first,” Manevitz says, “you act like just a fellow human being. Then, as a physician.”

— Adapted from “Remembering 9/11, and Healing Minds in Mississippi,” Donald G. McNeil Jr., The New York Times.

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