Defying Disaster: Doing Well in Tough Times

IRI podcast episode on defying disaster doing well in tough times

When disaster strikes, wouldn’t it be great to have access to the wisdom of more than 100 crisis leaders, survivors, and psychologists, right when you need it the most? Today’s guest certainly thinks so, and set about compiling data to create tools that can help leaders feel better prepared to take on disruption, stress and uncertainty, come what may. Today, Jennifer talks with Jolie Wills, Co-Founder and Director of Hummingly, a company dedicated to helping support people through difficult times. Here, she explains:

  • Why disasters are rarely "unprecedented" - we can always learn from the past;
  • How disaster fatigue impacts companies and individuals;
  • The dangers of the post-disaster "honeymoon period"; and
  • The importance of building an intentional leadership, with the strategies to sustain teams and organizations!

If you prefer to read along while you listen, we've done all the hard work for you! We listened back to this episode and took notes below, and access is free! 


Overcoming Disasters and Hummingly

  1. Both of the co-founders of Hummingly were inspired after surviving disasters - and met while working on the Christchurch earthquake in 2011.
    • Overcoming these experiences was really transformative for them, and changed their outlook on their work and personal lives.
    • Ms. Wills and her co-founder noticed that employees were going through increased rates of burnout in the wake of these disasters. 
    • They were determined to find a way to prevent burnout and maximize growth for both the employee and the company. 
  • The challenges and aftershocks from the earthquake parallel the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • There is a real need for leaders who learn from crisis leaders, so they can set up their companies to not only survive, but thrive.


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Defying Disaster

  • While the COVID pandemic was a teaching experience for business leaders, it was not the first disaster facing the corporate world.
  • We often call disasters “unprecedented”, but there are tools available for us to create a disaster blueprint and learn how to navigate these challenging circumstances, defying disaster and doing well in tough times. 
  • From a scientific perspective, it’s hard for people to imagine scenarios, and disasters, that they have never encountered before.
    • After an event, there is a heroic period of overcoming the disaster, but that can lead to a naive sense of what is ahead, and out of touch with reality. 

In the Wake of COVID

  • There is a lot of corporate fatigue coming out of the COVID pandemic, as well as uncertainty about what lies ahead. 
    • While there is a lot of progress, there are also concerns of another outbreak, and bracing for another disaster.
    • This corporate fatigue is not just facing individual employees, but entire organizations and industries who are facing post-traumatic growth, and an uphill climb coming out of the pandemic.
  • It’s an important message that people can get help to grow in the wake of the pandemic, and reach their goals quicker and easier, defying these disasters and doing well. 
    • These coping skills can be best learned from those who have experienced similar experiences within their corporate journey.

Disruption at the Corporate Level

  • The corporate world is now coming through the long tail of disruption from COVID, where people were out from being sick, working remotely, or absent for other reasons.
  • Corporate leaders are also feeling tired, after shouldering weight of the pandemic and the strain they were put under, which can be overwhelming.
  • The pandemic has not been easy, and it can be reassuring for leaders to find other leaders who have experienced similar scenarios and stressors.
    • Leading a team or a company now is very different than it was prior to the pandemic for a variety of reasons. 

Leadership Challenges in a Pandemic World

  • Leaders have been facing a variety of challenges since the pandemic began.
    • There is a lot of uncertainty now when making decisions in an environment that is constantly changing. 
    • It’s important to recognize the scale of how much of an impact decisions are being made on employees professional and personal lives
    • Leaders also need to make multiple decisions at the same time, and figure out what their priorities are, and what is most important to take immediate action on.
    • Many day-to-day routines have been disrupted as a result of the pandemic, or any disaster, and that plays into the psychological toll of people company-wide. Leaders need to think of ways to innovate, while also working within the tolerance of employees and being supportive throughout transformative processes. 
    • Leaders also need to maintain endurance during these challenging times, and use that in order to defy disaster in order to do well during tough times. Leaders need to prioritize endurance in the long term, rather than drastic change immediately, to prevent burnout.
  • Leaders tend to shoulder a lot of responsibility, especially during periods of disruption, and it can be challenging to manage the balance between the need for performance and handling the pressure of meeting deadlines. 
    • Leaders are also constantly innovating the way they work, and do what they can to push through stressors during challenging times. 
    • Leaders may try to go into a “business as usual” mode prematurely as a way to balance all of these pressures as a way to defy disaster.

Preparing for Disaster

  • Constant change in the world is a sign of the times, and leaders are doing what they can to prepare for incoming disasters.
  • It’s important to provide leaders and teams with the skills and knowledge to adapt in the face of adversity, and give them the resources to defy disasters in order to do well, and allow for growth.
  • We can anticipate more disruptions, and potentially disasters, in the future, and it’s important for leaders to be able to anticipate them and be able to accommodate their teams for any situation.
    • Many organizations are working on limited capacities right now, and are very vulnerable. Leaders need to place pressured strategies to implement team cohesion and remain vigilant for the future. 
    • This is the time to create opportunities to prepare companies for future disruptions, and make teams more resilient.
  • Ms. Wills spent time researching disaster zones to get a better look at the impact that prolonged stress placed on environments. She learned more about what strategies work best to create more resilient companies and communities, and applied that training to create tools for business leaders to apply them to their own organizations.  

Preparing For The Next Challenge

  • A common mistake that leaders can make is not being intentional with the strategies to sustain their teams and their organization. 
    • It’s also important to keep the goal in mind, and not lose perspective during long stretches of stress. 
    • One thing leaders can do to be mindful of the long term goals is to implement a personal board, with trusted colleagues, to have safe conversations, talk through challenges, and get meaningful feedback. It is okay to admit shortcomings and use trusted peers as a soundboard for ideas, as well as put new ideas into perspective. 
  • It is also important for leaders to be able to reflect on challenging times after the fact, and be able to learn from those experiences.
    • In that reflection, it is also beneficial to ask constructive questions about how to improve in the future. 
  • Ms. Willis and her business partner formed Hummingly to create masterclasses and workshops for organizations to prepare them for disaster.
    • These classes teach leaders about team cohesion, willbeing, and managing stress through a mixture of virtual and in-person workshops.
    • The goal of these classes is to maximize growth in leaders and minimize burnout.

Jolie Wills Background

  • Master’s Degree in Science - Psychology from the University of Canterbury
  • Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from the University of Canterbury
  • Ms. Wills began her career working with the New Zealand Red Cross, leading the  Psychosocial Recovery Programme and serving as the National Psychosocial Advisor
  • She was the Director of Time of Your Life, a a business dedicated to preserving life stories with a team of writers and book designers around New Zealand
  • Today, she is the Co-Founder & Director at Hummingly



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