Leading in Crisis…Are your leaders focused on the whole person and leadership for all?

We are learning a lot about leadership and community in the face of a global pandemic.

Undoubtedly, we are learning about the need for grace, kindness, thoughtfulness, and the need for progressive leadership in this crisis.

My work in higher education means that I am watching my local leadership and the leadership of learning institutions nationwide make decisions about multiple aspects of the lives of the people they serve. Quick decisions have been made in many cases about the physical safety of these people, in terms of moving classes to online platforms and suspending large gatherings.

Lessons that I am learning in this moment include the following

  • Crisis, and extreme crisis such as this global pandemic, is a time in which you quickly learn how and where your trust in your leadership lies. One sign of trust is that in moments when there are many things requiring your attention, you feel that you can leave a certain set of issues and decisions to your leaders without worrying about the decision(s) that will be made. If you have a large list of such issues and topics, you largely understand your leaders’ values and abilities to make the right decision in those areas. Having areas that you trust your leaders to steward in the short term means that your limited time, attention, and energy can go to areas of high priority that your know require your vigilance and input. Where trust is not firmly established or in place across many areas, your time and attention must be divided across paying attention to so much. The lesson for leaders is that trust needs to be firmly established and cultivated daily so that all can focus time, energy and resources to areas of greatest priority in times of crisis or urgency.

Where leaders identify areas that trust is limited or lacking in a crisis, they should make note of these as areas of extremely high priority when post-crisis.

  • Crisis is a magnifying glass or unintended “assessment” tool for the areas is our systems that work well, leadership strategies that are effective, and individuals who have fortitude, creativity, and communication skills to help our institutions. These moments of crisis simultaneously reveal where there are gaps in our leadership, resources, systems, and communication (forms, format and content). In a crisis the scale of this global pandemic of Coronavirus, we undoubtedly must pay attention to the moment and the way things can, and do, shift quickly and radically. Yet, we should not leave behind the valuable lessons that we learn about the strengths—and definitely not the lessons about the lack thereof—of our leaders, leadership structures, methods of communication, nuance of communications, or other factors when the crisis passes and just proceed back to business as usual.

If we learn and implement all that we should about our systems during the crisis, WE SHOULD NEVER BE EXACTLY THE SAME.

  • Whereas we must focus on our missions and try to preserve aspects of our core functions in our responses to crisis, we can’t forget that we are dealing with whole people. We are leading people whose first concern and priorities are likely to be about their personal health and safety, and that of those in their personal circles. The ways in which individuals in higher education are rising to the occasion in their local domains to support instructors in moving classes online, the ways in which leaders are thinking and working around the clock to try to “save” our educational terms are admirable. Across the nation “keep teaching”, “keep learning”, “keep researching” platforms are popping up. We can’t imagine the hours of work, thinking, planning and coordination that these are requiring. I applaud each of my local colleagues and those nationally working on these issues and the utility that they (will) provide to ensure that we do the best we can to “salvage” the terms for students and colleagues.

Certainly leaders from department chairs to deans to provosts to presidents/chancellors are sending out messages to inform and support.

I’ve also been encouraging leaders in my circles and on my campus to consider that we find ways to give more personalized messages, acknowledging that the current shift to limits in campus engagement and limited access to spaces is necessary, yet these changes impact distinct populations differently.

Although I recognize that these leaders are likely already working beyond their physical and emotional capacity, progressive leadership would identify a core set of individuals able to help in communicating the ways in which we recognize the urgency some individuals may feel depending on their status – graduate students defending in the next few weeks and moving on to other positions, instructors who renew contracts from year to year, assistant professors on schedule to come up for review for tenure this year, associate professors planning for promotion, etc.

Where possible, we should build into our systems efforts to have proactive communications such that these individuals do not feel undue urgency to risks their health (and by extension the health of those with whom they come in contact). We need act and communicate such that they understand that their leaders are proactively planning and implementing support for them and reasonable consideration and accommodations.

I was encouraged to see the following info shared by Terry McGlynn about such a proactive and thoughtful accommodation made about teaching evaluations:

I hope that we will see more action and dissemination of exemplars in this regard. Perhaps there will be campus leaders who consider enacting a decision to shift tenure decisions by 6 months or more this year for all, rather than defaulting to our usual practice of waiting for individuals to ask and then deciding on a case-by-case request basis which favors the bold and unafraid to ask and disadvantages the marginalized functioning in hypervisibility. I am sure there are many other creative things that we could do, and I look forward to brainstorming personally and learning from the many examples that I hope will emerge.

I think it is vitally important that as we contemplate ways to keep teaching, keep learning, and keep researching, that we proactively and innovatively KEEP SUPPORTING!

As always, if you have thoughts on this or other posts, find me on Twitter at @BerondaM.

But especially if you have needs or creative solutions or suggestions about supporting each other, please find me @BerondaM.

Leading to pursue purpose or personal affirmation?

I’ve become increasingly convinced that one of our greatest leadership challenges in higher education and far beyond is the way in which we select and reward leaders.

There are two extremes in leadership, to my mind—leaders who have developed and carefully cultivate a vision of leadership and purpose vs. those leaders who step into leadership positions actively pursuing personal affirmation and self-promotion.

Leaders pursuing vision and purpose arrive in these leadership roles with a good sense of self, a defined vision, and a clear sense of how their vision/purpose will be enabled through their leadership role or platform. These individuals often cultivate sources of affirmation that are self-driven or external to the leadership role that they hold. Where one seeks validation is critical as it’s all too easy to let the search for affirmation become the guidepost, rather than the outcome, of value-driven pursuit of vision AND purpose.

Leaders pursuing a vision embrace the need to communicate their vision and engage in bilateral exchanges with those they lead and serve as they actively advance. Vision-driven leaders understand and intentionally cultivate broad buy-in, make tough decisions, and arrive at decisions primarily driven by pursuit of intended outcomes and impact, rather than prioritizing personal gains or a need for external validation.

On the other extreme (and unfortunately all too common in some places and spaces) are individuals with a desire to lead and to be recipients of the perceived “spoils” of leadership—respect, perceived power, admiration and more. These leaders often seek to affirm their sense of self, or attempt to lead in search of a vision. Such individuals often seek affirmation as a core part of carrying out their leadership role, which can have significant impacts on decision-making processes. Indeed, when leadership is pursued or engaged as a key venue for seeking self-affirmation or self-promotion, the most likely outcomes are decisions founded on self-preservation.

These thoughts about pursuit of vision vs. personal affirmation in leadership roles are ones that I’ve been contemplating for some time:

If you have thoughts on this or other posts, find me on Twitter at @BerondaM