Catalyst, Resources

A Time To Lead With Culture, Character, and Celebration

These are not easy days for leaders of any type.

The sudden and drastic changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic in the last few weeks have required us to make important decisions amidst great uncertainty; and in many cases have to revise those decisions repeatedly as new information and insights emerge. We have had to lead our organizations with as much calm and confidence as we can muster even while processing our professional and personal fears. Most leaders I know have risen to the occasion beautifully.

As demanding as it has been so far; I expect leadership to become more difficult in the weeks and months to come.

Most leaders respond well to crisis. We are motivated by the urgency and need for action. In many ways we like the pressure, and the rush involved in handling the unanticipated can actually be invigorating. Adrenaline is a powerful thing.

Our leadership teams, employees, and communities have also stepped up. Again, there is a remarkable ability to accept difficult circumstances when something of this magnitude is happening all around us. We can tolerate a lot for a while if we believe it is for good reason.

But that initial period of easy adaptability will come to an end and the adrenaline will fade. That is when leadership will require greater nuance and strength. As one deeply insightful article describes, we are facing an ice age, not a blizzard.

There are many great resources to help us understand how to lead through this crisis as it extends. Many come from people more experienced, studied, or insightful than me. I’d welcome you linking to the ones you find most helpful in the comments at the end of this post.

What I think I can offer are a couple particular reminders; things we probably already know but may not be acting on.

1. Your organizational Culture is far more valuable than your Strategy right now. 

The plans and priorities you had even six weeks ago have probably been completely abandoned. What remains as you try to change on the fly is the quality and strength of relationships you have built over time. Healthy cultures will find ways to shift resources and approaches with strong engagement from staff and stakeholders. Unhealthy ones will not. 

This is not the time to take Culture for granted. Continue to invest actively in people. Find ways to have both formal and informal interaction. Continue to train and treat (or school and spoil) your team even under pressure. It will pay off.

We have a quick, insightful, and highly actionable tool to help you understand, evaluate, and improve your organizational culture.

2. Your personal Character outweighs your skills and experience.

None of us have done this before. Even the most adept at remote working have never done it under these circumstances. The playbook for this situation is being written day by day, even hour by hour; you can’t find it in a library or bookshop. That means we all need to discern which of the multitude of “expert” voices we will listen to and which insights we will try to apply.

Ultimately it will be leaders who are adaptable, relational, and trusted that will find ways forward. Those who are driven by selfish motives or insecurity will find it extremely hard to maintain engagement. Make a point of checking in on your own identity and actions regularly and find some safe people to help you stay (or get) on track. People follow those they trust when all else is uncertain.

If you want a practical tool to do a personal character check up for yourself or your team please let me know.

3. Prioritize Celebration.

A quick glance through my social media feeds show that people are rapidly tiring of the latest projections and predictions. As much as we need to keep up with critical information, we are longing for good news. This is only multiplied, exponentially, by the enforced isolation of this particular crisis. Celebration is a strong counterpoint to fatigue.

Expect that your team, donors, clientele, and community need more celebration than you do. Find and flag as many examples as you can of the ways the things you are doing are helping, even if that only means reducing the degree of harm people experience. Make a point of drawing attention to what is hopeful. 

Whether you are a religious person or not there is a universal wisdom in the Bible’s advice:

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”
(Philippians 4:8 NIV)
Your efforts to give people reason and opportunity to celebrate in this time of turmoil may be the most important thing you do.

If I can help you work through any of these things as you lead please contact me.

It would be my pleasure to help you as you lead. You may also find some useful insights into Celebration and organizational Culture in The REACTION Dashboard.

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