A Message from Ward Hubbell


Many years ago when my kids were still little, I noticed moisture on the wall next to our fireplace.

I called a contractor friend to come check it out. His name was Tom.

After a few minutes on our roof, Tom determined the flashing around our chimney was cracked – allowing water to seep down behind the walls. His assessment was this had been going on for some period of time.

That meant a lot of water.

Let me disclose that in my early years as a parent I was a bit overprotective. Maybe even neurotic at times. This situation was no different. My mind quickly raced to worst case scenarios. I envisioned a small river running behind my living room wall. Rotting beams and struts. Decaying plaster. Mold. Mushrooms.

It was only a matter of time before the wall would come crashing down. I became convinced this wall would wipe out my entire family.

After Tom fixed the flashing, I couldn’t help but wonder about that wall. How could I really be sure it was safe?

“What about the structural integrity of the wall?” I asked Tom.

“It’s fine,” he told me. He went on to explain again how he installed new flashing and sealed it up to prevent leaks.

I persisted.

“OK, but what about the structural integrity?” I asked again.

He took another shot at assuring me. And I asked him a third time.

He suddenly stopped. He smiled at me warmly and put his hands on my shoulders. “I get it. You need me to say the words ‘structural integrity.’ You need to hear those words come out of my mouth, don’t you?”

I did. I needed him to say those words.

I knew Tom wasn’t an engineer. He couldn’t really guarantee that wall. But I also knew that Tom knew what he was doing and that he believed it was going to be OK. Believing that he believed was all I needed to hear.

And yes, the leaking stopped. The wall never fell. We later sold that house at the top of the market for a nice profit. But that’s not the point of the story.

The point is when people are anxious and fearful sometimes all we need is for someone to tell us it’s going to be OK.

Obviously, there are some glaring exceptions to this. As we confront the staggering economic and emotional toll of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are dealing with the reality that people are dying and more will follow. Like many of you, I feel fortunate to be healthy and know this will be but a chapter in a life full of ups and downs.

When people ask if things are going to be OK, what they’re really asking is if you’re OK. Are you the kind of leader we can depend on? Do you have the grit, determination and staying power to do whatever it takes to get us to the other side?

They’re not really expecting you to guarantee an outcome as much as they’re asking if they can count on you.

This is why New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has emerged as a national leader in this crisis. His straight talk coupled with ample dose of self-confidence shows he knows it won’t be easy, but also that he believes we’ll get through this.

I loved it when Cuomo just said this at his daily news briefing: “Let’s whip coronavirus’ ass.”

Does he know when or how that will happen? Does he know what the world will look like after we do? No, but what he does seem to believe is that we will.

As you communicate with your employees, customers, family members and all the other people depending on you, remember that they’re not really expecting you to guarantee outcomes.

They want you to guarantee yourself. And that is something only you can do.