I drove away from Haiti yesterday, having finally been relieved of my role as the Acting Country Director. I chose to make the five-hour drive to give myself time to reflect on the last four months. I am both wonderfully relieved to be done and sad to leave my team. In my farewell speech the day before, I had stressed how proud I was of everyone. It was the hardest four months of my life. We had great successes--reopening the office within days of the earthquake, developing a logistics chain that delivered 50 containers of supplies to our most needy partners, restarting and accelerating all our programs so that we could help as many people as quickly as possible.
I also stressed how sorry I was for my failures. In an earlier post, I had said that I knew that I had to act quickly and to take decisions. I said that I figured if I was right 7 out of 10 times, then I was doing well. However, those wrong decisions have consequences. In many cases, someone helped me to catch the mistake and correct it. In others, it was too late. Those mistakes hurt.
The hardest are the failures where I didn't act. I busted my butt and worked as hard as I could. When I was in Haiti, I worked 12 to 14 hour days. I spent nearly half my weekends in Haiti since January 12th. Yet, I could not focus on every problem. Four people quit in my last week. They each quit because of different unresolved problems. I sometimes felt that my attention was like a searchlight. I could shine it on a problem and push that issue towards resolution. However, i couldn't do anything about what was in the dark on either side of the searchlight. If I moved my attention too soon, the problem would not be fixed.
What hurt most was the knowledge that so much of the impact of the disaster was avoidable. Many of the buildings that collapsed were poorly built or on unsafe land. The Haitian leaders should not have allowed people to build so poorly. The same lack of leadership can be seen throughout Haiti. decisions to avoid short term pain led to disastrous impacts.
I saw that within my own short tenure in Haiti. Overall, I was very blunt and honest--far more so than I have ever been in my life. However, I sometimes slipped up. I would skip over a problem because it seemed too hard or fail to comment on someone's behavior because it seemed too awkward. Those problems seemed inevitably to come back and bite me.
As I drove home, I resolved that this is what I would strive to change. I would help other leaders to have the courage to confront problems honestly rather than to allow them to fester. I don't yet know how I will do this. I might stay with my current organization and continue working in Haiti. I might move to Missoula, Montana and start fresh. In any case, I still have a couple of months to wrap up our work along the Haitian-Dominican border.