Surviving the Storm: The Goodwin Sands Warning

South Foreland is site in Dover, England. It is a place that can lay claim to some unique history for it was here, way back in 1858 that the first ever electric light was illuminated, long before Thomas Edison first lit up his bulb. In another quirk of important history (for such a small place), this was the site of the first internationally transmitted radio single by one Guglielmo  Marconi in March 1899 between South Foreland and Winereux, France. However noteworthy these two slices of history are, this is not the focal point of our excursion to this southern tip of England. Looking out on a rare clear day from South Foreland vantage point over the stretch of water that thankfully (for both parties) separates England from France, one can see the Goodwin Sands.

Goodwin SandbanksThe Goodwin Sands is a 16km long sandbank lying 10km off the Kent coastline that is notorious for being one of the most lethal and treacherous places on the planet. History books reveal that the Sandbank has been responsible for more shipwrecks than any other place – more than 2000 have been recorded there. The worse recorded incident occurred in what is known as the ‘Great Storm of 1703’ when a fierce storm drove at least 13 men-of-war and 40 merchant ships that had been safely moored, onto the sandbanks where they were destroyed. On that day over 2000 Royal Navy seamen died.

Author Bill Bryson in his wonderful book, ‘The Road to Little Dribbling (where I first learnt of the Great Storm of 1703) provides a further bit of trivia concerning that same storm, although I acknowledge that my use of the word ‘trivia’ hardly seems appropriate! Bryson tells of the tragic tale of a certain Henry Winstanley of Devon, the designer and builder of the Eddystone Lighthouse, and how he and five others were swept into the sea (along with his ‘impregnable’ Lighthouse) by the storm. Winstanley had been convinced that his lighthouse could withstand any storm and sadly must have convinced his five friends of that ‘fact’.

The cost of the storm to both life and property was severe. No one saw it coming and no one thought they would be put at such risk by the elements and therein sits our lesson: Going forwards turbulence is the new ‘norm’.

Socio-political and economic turbulence is to be expected and learning how to build resilient companies and teams – as well as what it will take to lead through such turbulence, is the ‘new’ leadership agenda. Thinking our ‘boats’ and ‘lighthouses’ are safe from the storm leaves us exposed and even more defenceless in the face of the battering we can expect. Had you asked those hardened Royal Navy sailors and Mr. Winstanley and friends, if they thought themselves safe – undoubtedly their collective answer would have been a resounding, ‘yes, of course’ – the boats were moored, the lighthouse was impregnable.

What makes you think that you and your business will be able to withstand the next storm? Reviewing your reasons and preparedness will not be wasted conversation or time. Surfacing and putting under scrutiny the things you and your team think will ‘keep you alive’ in the next wave that will doubtless be coming is a conversation better had now than when the severe waves break. Being smug about your preparedness in the calm is sure to cost you when the time comes to put that to the test.

Best then you check!

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