11/05/2012 07:44 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

On Sandy and Leadership

This is my first blog post since Sandy swept through and my last blog post before the election on I have some stuff to say. Let's face it, we had a rough week. I am massively grateful that everyone I know and love is present and accounted for, and power has finally been restored to both my home and my business. At the same time, I feel like things will never be quite the same. Actually, I am hoping things are never quite the same.

I was as prepared as I could be--even though I had some last-minute generator issues that required some quick action--which enabled me to have coffee, a refrigerator, and heat for the three days we were without power. Three days doesn't sound very long now that I write it. But believe me, it felt like an eternity. It was an eternity during which Twitter was the only thing that would load onto my iPhone and was my only link to the world outside. It was an eternity during which I could only capture snippets of what was going on--repetitive references to "infrastructure" and finally, some talk about climate change and the election, like a last-minute guest who shows up at a dinner party, perhaps invited, perhaps not, welcomed by some and not welcomed by others.

As Sandy raged through Monday night, once my kids were safely tucked in their beds I opened the door to outside to see what was going on. It was horribly dark, and the sound of the wind was louder than anything I'd heard coming from the sky before. Rain was inconsistent, but lightening flashed without thunder. What struck me most was the smell: Sandy smelled like the all that Jersey beach was still stuck in her dress as she swirled in an angry dance over my Pennsylvania mountain home. At that point I had no idea what damage she had done, was doing, or would do. Would my roof be over my head when I woke up the next day? Would I wake up? I had prayed to my many trees to dig in their roots and stand strong....

The next morning, everything was fine. My trees did stand strong, even though all the roads around me were shut because of other falling trees. No power, but no harm done. As I checked in on family, coworkers, buildings, and roads, I was both thankful and angry. It was as though Sandy, when I had opened the door to her the night before, had infused me with some of her rage.

And my rage was focused on the idea of leadership. I read a tweet that said Romney was ahead in some polls because of his "likeability." LIKEABILITY?!!! That's how we vote for a President?! I started to fume about our Hollywood-movie culture. We want a leader to look a certain way or make certain dramatic speeches when the chips are down, and yet we as a country--because of our fickleness and shallow thinking about things like budgets and taxes and the economy--have let our INFRASTRUCTURE  be weakened to the point it is ridiculously out of date and unsafe, whether it be power lines or subways, while our climate change denial has lead to more aggressive and frequent storms, droughts, floods, and disasters that then require even more money to fix. It's a common, very human tendency, and I've seen it at work in my own business. It's so frustrating!

I started to think about my own leadership at work. Leadership is hard!!! Leadership means solving problems that no one else really wants solved because doing so means they have to get out of their comfort zones. They might have to change, plan ahead, do things differently. SPEND MONEY up front on things rather than wait till it's too late and then have to spend a hell of a lot more. This is the disease of our time: Whether it's not wanting to spend more money up front on healthy food but then costing everyone a fortune when you get a chronic disease or not wanting to increase tax dollars and regulations to come up with a smart power grid fueled by alternative energy that works (rather than chemical corn and soy biofuels and fracking that do even more damage to our health and the environment). Everyone wants the easy answer, the path of least resistance, the status quo. You can believe that it's not your problem and reduced government spending will solve everything, and that just focusing on abortion and gay marriage will make America strong again, but that's freaking CRAZY!

Real leadership requires doing things that are not fun, not popular, and not sexy. Real leadership looks like Governor Christie and President Obama standing rumpled and shoulder-to-shoulder in the aftermath of a storm, petty politics put aside, united by a Bruce Springsteen view of America as a place where "we take care of our own." (I know Christie is a Bruce fan and Bruce is an Obama fan.) But real leadership is what happens when the doors are closed and the plans drawn up that make hard choices about what gets funded and what doesn't. Which bullies we let into our businesses and which bullies we push out. Can Obama do better? Of course. Can I do better? Absolutely. But the important thing is we are DOING.

If you look at the facts--JUST THE FACTS--Obama has been an amazing president during the most challenging time of our lives. I don't care about whether he has developed a New York Times-worthy "narrative." I am a woman CEO of an independent, family-owned business. I have never asked for or received a bailout from anyone. I don't play the political game (which trust me, all the Republican men I know are damn good at; they know how to work the system and milk it for their own benefit like free beer from a keg). I constantly witness my own industry, the world of media, focusing on the wrong things--the superficial, scandalous things--because they're "what people want" and what YOU will pay for. The truth is, we are all in this "business" together, and we all choose OUR reality by what we pay for and what we pay attention to.

Sandy has spoken.

And tomorrow, I'm voting for Obama.




Photo: NASA via Getty Images

For more from Maria Rodale, go to