Leadership Lessons Learned from Maui Wildfires

Aug 18, 2023

Leadership Lessons

Realities of the Maui Wildfire and potential Leadership Lessons learned

As you all know, Maui was crippled last week with a ferocious wildfire that eviscerated our beloved town of Lahaina. The firestorm has the dubious title of being the deadliest United States fire in the modern era.

What most people outside of Maui do not know, is how catastrophic this event actually was. The numbers being reported are NOT the actual numbers of the dead. Those numbers are higher…much higher. The deaths are worse, much worse than people could imagine.

This wasn’t a normal wildfire.

This wasn’t the typical wildfire you see in Colorado or California…flames slowly creeping towards million-dollar homes on the edge of town, giving owners plenty of time to evacuate. This was something the world has never seen before.

This was an entire, close-knit community being vaporized within hours to due a lack of communication and poorly tested municipal processes, in conjunction with unforeseen political and natural forces that created the perfect storm.


Leadership lessons learned from Maui Wildfires

Recently, Emergency Chief Herman Andaya stated that he did not regret sounding the sirens which could have potentially save many lives.


We don’t know the internal processes. We don’t know the level of communication that day. We just know Andaya is answering for this responsibility of his team, which is to be expected.

The reporter pushed Chief Andaya with more questions.

It was clear that Chief Andaya was in “freeze” mode (fight, flight, or freeze). His body language and verbal tones bent under the scrutiny. Clearly, he was not ready to be thrown to the wolves. The Government held him out of the press for as long as possible, but at some point, this had to happen. Chief Andaya needed to be held accountable for everything under his watch.

His lack of decisiveness in the press conference gave clarity as to how the situation in Lahaina played out. My heart goes out to him and his family. Such a position needed a seasoned official who can make life or death decision in seconds, and not avoid eye contact to an out of state reporter trying to make a name for himself.

Andaya had an opportunity to be remorseful and transparent, but chose to deflect and defend the decision. It was absolutely the wrong move. It’s okay to make a mistake, but to defend it…that just doesn’t fly in this era of social media. We need to own mistakes and learn from them.

In business, always be transparent. Admit mistakes. Always admit potential opportunities to improve. Your employees and followers will understand that, but it requires someone to set aside their ego and pride.

The reporter didn’t hesitate to press forward sensing a kill…ignoring the multiple polite requests from the facilitator to be kind, and respectful of Aloha.

Clearly, this reporter didn’t care. He interrupted Chief Andaya with his own agenda which was valid, but unnecessary. The initial simple question was enough to get the point across.

As you see in the video, Mayor Richard Bissen immediately stepped in to defend his team.

This is leadership at it’s finest. This is why I’m writing this blog.

The world might be criticizing Mayor Bissen as a bureaucrat shutting down the free press, but that’s not what I saw. That’s not what the people of Maui saw.

If you understand this island, and what Leadership actually means, you will perceive his actions as admirable. This is exactly who you want as your leader.

I saw a Leader step up to defend his team without hesitation.

Right or wrong, a leader doesn’t hang his team out to dry.

In business, think about all the mistakes that are made. No one is perfect. Leadership understands that, and they protect their team.

I remember as a young accountant making a mistake that was recognized outside the department. It blew my mind that my Director stepped up to defend me. It instantly made me loyal to him. To this day, I would do anything for him.

True Leaders step up and defend attacks and complaints against their team. They don’t pile on or blame the person who made a mistake.

It doesn’t matter the gravity of the situation. They take the bullet for the team and deal with the issues behind closed doors.

That’s exactly what Mayor Bissen did. He was not there to argue with facts, or defend bad decisions…he was there to defend his team and cut off unnecessary hostility.

As a holistic CFO who wants to instill values of Leadership for emerging companies, I urge all small business owners to watch this clip and understand how to lead.

As Gary Vee says:

“If you have more than 10 employees, you work for them”

It’s that simple.