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 in 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.

A common futile cycle of leading and being led

There is a serious futile cycle frequently functioning in leadership and mentoring.

Much like the long-held view of futile cycles of biology as reactions which run in opposite directions with no overall effect other than releasing energy, futile cycles in leadership and mentoring are often characterized by lots of activity on the part of the mentor/leader and the mentored/led—in the absence of useful or measurable progress towards a goal.

Most commonly in these futile cycles, mentors or leaders offer ‘affirmation’ or feedback in forms THEY see as valuable; yet, the proffered feedback may not overlap with the feedback desired by the individual being mentored or led (Figure 1).

Where leaders and mentors spend significant energy crafting solutions that are not meeting the needs or desires of specific individuals to which they are offered, two outcomes arise that can undermine the ongoing relationship.

  1. The leader or mentor feels that their effort was unacknowledged or unappreciated, or that the intended recipient of their effort is ungrateful. These interpretations can undermine future commitment or effort or derail building a relationship of trust needed for continued successful leadership and engagement.
  2. When the individual being led or mentored doesn’t receive the feedback or response that aligns with their needs or desires, the individual can often feel unseen, unheard, or undervalued.
Figure 1. Venn diagram of leader/mentor feedback offered and feedback desired by individuals who are being mentored or led.

This outcome of leaders offering feedback that is wholly distinct from that desired arises frequently due to two major causes, among others. The first is the likelihood that the leader offers support or feedback that would have been appreciated by the leader themselves. The second is due to a leader going to a “standard playbook” of responses in a given situation – e.g., recruitment, retention, or other critical times.

Where leaders take time to cultivate relationships of trust and engagement in which those being led can express ‘meaningful desired outcomes’ that support their progress and growth for the leader’s consideration, the likelihood of cultivating overlap between the feedback offered and that desired can lead to mutual appreciation (Figure 1).

Where mutual appreciation is cultivated and achieved, the motivation and ultimately retention of individuals is supported and the drive and engagement of leaders is supported as their energy and efforts are recognized.

An understanding of and cultivated abilities to ethically, equitably, and proactively foster the true relational nature of #leading and #mentoring is something we don’t always screen for, reward, nor fully appreciate in selected leaders or mentors.

We pay high costs in many environments in terms of lost energy, momentum, and trust as we traverse futile cycles that are frequently about misconnections of opportunities to understand and/or affirm values of those we lead and mentor through offering feedback, support and rewards that they individually value.

When futile cycles are prevalent, the cultivation of meaningful relationships between mentors or leaders and those they mentor or lead generally is not.

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

Leading change through sharing personal leadership journeys

Last year when I was invited to submit a chapter to a book on women leading in the academy, I initially thought it was interesting to consider because of the need for progressive material in this area.

Additionally it was an interesting invitation, as I had been asked to co-write a chapter with my Michigan State University colleague Kendra Cheruvelil. Kendra and I knew each other casually at the time of the invitation, but were growing in our understanding and appreciation of each other enough to consider what a jointly authored book chapter on professional development could be.

Next spring our chapter “Professional Development of Women Leaders” will be a part of a new book from Cognella Academic Publishing co-edited by Callie Rennison of University of Colorado Denver and Amy Bonomi of Michigan State University.

Kendra and I both learned a lot about ourselves and each other in our personal and collaborative reflection during the process of working on this chapter.

I’m personally eager to learn from and about all of the other women leaders who have contributed to this text. I have no doubt it will offer much needed insight and “food for thought”!

Women Leading Change in Academia: Breaking the Glass Ceiling, Cliff, and Slipper co-edited by Callie Rennison and Amy Bonomi coming in Spring 2020 from Cognella Academic Publishing.
Table of contents for “Women Leading Change in Academia”