I wish I could have written this two months ago – but it takes time to notice, to learn and reflect on what you see.
Moving fast (together)
In a crisis speed is essential. We need to respond quickly. There isn’t much time to reflect or weigh up all the options, to consult. Decisions need to be made. And often those who respond quickest do reap a benefit – as Jason Mandryk puts it “Whoever can innovate fastest and best will ’win’”.
However, given our different personalities and make up not all of us are able to move quickly, some of us need time to reflect and weigh up options which is why we need other people – teams. In a time of crisis we need to have people or invite people onto our teams who can think, respond and act quickly. IT also applies to resources. Alone we can do little. Small organsiations or churches can do a little by themselves but when we work together we are much stronger, we pool resources including skills and can respond much quicker and more effectively than we could alone. I experienced this as part of the Praxis team – as a collaboration Praxis were able to run webinars on responding to Coronavirus and start Learning Communities to help leaders process and think ahead in March. As Innovista Ireland we simply didn’t have the resources to move that quickly – but when we worked with others we could.
One downside about moving fast is that we wont always get it right, or that it might not be as polished or professional as we would like. We wont have time to cover all the bases before we put things out. From the beginning I was challenged and inspired by the words of Mike Ryan of the WHO, who said:
“In emergency response speed trumps perfection, and the problem we have at the moment is everyone is afraid of making a mistake. The greatest error is not to move. The greatest error is to be paralysed by the fear of failure”
These were words that for me became prophetic as we trialed ideas we’d talked about for months if not years, and in the words of a former boss of mine ‘gave it a lash’.
Defining Reality and communicating clearly
Max du Pree famously said:
The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the two, the leader must become a servant
Defining reality starts with stating reality honestly in plain language. When are given a clear explanation or framework for where we are, it frees us and gives us permission to accept that reality and live into it. On a small scale when we know what is expected of us in a meeting, it frees us to make our best contribution. We all need boundaries, or at least to have the boundaries made clear for us. It is part of the role of those who have leadership roles to communicate what is happening in a way that resonates with people’s experience, in language that we can all understand. In a training session recently the facilitator told someone to simply “say what they see” then explained that when we try to put more words or padding on what we see instead of saying it clearly and directly, what we say becomes more and more detatched from reality.
Defining reality also continues by encouraging action that begins to reshape that reality. Small steps are best and most manageable. At the beginning of an online church service recently the minister talked of the reality of zoom fatigue for many and of missing connection, then encouraged us all to take some time to call or text or whatsapp people that we normally would chat to in person. Replacing frustration with action.
A crucial aspect of the role of a leader is to get ahead of the curve, to be thinking 2, 3, 4 steps ahead of where we are now. That’s difficult in crisis when our energy is taken up with the reality of responding. In so called ‘normal times’ we talk of the need for leaders to carve out time do this and it is even more crucial in times of crisis. I have been impressed as I’ve watched others examine the phases out of lockdown and begin to think ahead and plan ahead for how they can and should operate in two months time, getting ahead so they can prepare, then be pre-emptive as opposed to responsive. This requires mental energy and the discipline to take time out away from Zoom calls, to rest and to recharge the creative juices, to be able to do some deep reflection on what we have been learning, on the things that need to change as a result of our experiences during the time of Coronavirus.
It seems counterintuitive but if you are a leader, then what those you serve need most is for you to stop doing and to be still. To listen and to think. To listen well to allow others to think well. As with moving fast, that is best done together.
- As we move out of crisis phase how will you carve time out to think ahead?
- Given we are better together and stronger together who do you need to reflect, think and plan with?
- What else have you learned about leading in a crisis that you would add?
The thoughts and views expressed in this are the author’s own.