he law of timing is the 19th of The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. It states that “when to lead is as important as what to do and where to go.”
Early in the morning on Monday, August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck the U.S. Gulf coast as a Category 3 storm. With more than 1,830 deaths and $125 billion in damages, Katrina was the costliest and deadliest storm on record.
Leaders’ response to Katrina and the Law of Timing
On Friday, August 26, 2005, the National Hurricane Center predicted that the storm would reach landfall on Monday, August 29.
The next morning, on Saturday, August 27, leaders of many of Lousiana’s parishes around New Orleans ordered a mandatory evacuation.
Later in the evening of Saturday, August 27, Mayor Ray Nagin announced a voluntary evacuation of New Orleans. Only after the Director of National Hurricane Center called Nagin did the mayor become concerned enough to act.
By the time Mayor Nagin finally ordered a mandatory evacuation on the morning of Saturday, August 28, it was much too late for many citizens of New Orleans. Besides, he has no concrete plan on how to help the people who couldn’t make it out of town on such short notice.
Why did Mayor Ray Nagin waited and refused to order a mandatory evacuation the same time the other parish leaders around New Orleans announced their mandatory evacuations? He did not understand the Law of Timing. He didn’t know that when it comes to Emergency Preparedness, every hour count.
With the Law of Timing, the when is as important as the what
The former Mayor of New Orleans was not the only leader who failed to deal with Hurricane Katrina in a timely and efficient way. Other leaders reputation were also damaged in the handling of the storm:
- Director Michael Brown of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) held off on readying adequate relief.
- Governor Kathleen Blanco and President Bush exchanged form letters instead of urgent phone calls.
- President Bush was vacationing at his ranch in Crawford, Texas.
Hurricane Katrina did not only swept away people and damaged their properties, the storm also damaged the reputation of the leaders for violating the Law of Timing. If the leaders had paid greater attention not only to what they did but also to when they did it, many more lives would have been saved.
The Law of Timing requires the right action at the right time
As a leader, the action you take and the time you take it is very important, and it can result in one of four outcomes:
- Disaster. The wrong action at the wrong time leads to disaster. Mayor Nagin’s poor leadership set in motion a series of wrong actions at the wrong time. He waited until it was too late to call for a mandatory evacuation. If you take the wrong action at the wrong time, your people will suffer. And so will your leadership.
- Resistance. The right action at the wrong time brings resistance. Having a vision for the direction of your organization and knowing how to get there are not enough. If you take the right action at the wrong time, you will still be unsuccessful because the people you lead can become resistant.
- Mistake. The wrong action at the right time is a mistake. Entrepreneurs naturally obey the Law of Timing. They instinctively know when it’s time to make a move, but they sometimes make mistakes in their actions at those key moments.
- Success. The right action at the right time results in success. Incredible things happen when leaders do take the right action at the right time. Winston Churchill said “there comes a special moment in everyone’s life, a moment for which that person was born. That special opportunity, when he seizes it, will fulfill his mission—a mission for which he is uniquely qualified. In that moment, he finds greatness. It is his finest hour.”