In the first week of January 2020, I began a five-month stint in a new interim CEO position. No one anticipated the upheaval that would be brought on by the looming pandemic abroad. Here are the 4 most important lessons that I learned leading an organization as the global crisis unfolded and is on-going:
BE ATTENTIVE: Make getting to know the staff, listening to board and constituents, visiting its 10 offices, solving easy problems and building trust was the first priority. Trust is the cornerstone for any successful leader, but it is doubly important for an interim leader who must be able to effect change quickly. Before the pandemic hit, showing attentiveness to all staff and constituents is what I had spent my time doing. It was more valuable than I could have imagined.
BE INFORMED: Build a team with staff members who represent a variety of expertise. Ours was called DART: Disaster Action Readiness Team. I found that depending on DART and having it report out to the staff helped build their confidence in the information they were receiving. It also reinforced the critical importance of diversity as a core strength of the organization. DART allowed me to be strong and firm in my decisions, using every bit of information available to me, even if it changed some days by the minute. One staff member said to me, “We feel like you’ve got this!”
BE SINGULAR of MIND: During the planning to move to home offices, I asked the organization to make our #1 singular priority the health and safety of staff, clients and families. This had to be an unambiguous top goal. Anything that didn’t support this singular priority was put on hold.
BE PRESENT: The days since the pandemic arrived have been and are currently spent on Zoom and Skype calls, checking in with staff, moving forward with service to clients, listening to fears and uncertainty, problem solving for the comfort and ease of staff working from home offices, being attentive to those who struggle, and laughing whenever possible while maintaining the mission of the organization for our clients. Remote working requires more effort on the part of leadership to keep everyone feeling emotionally connected and engaged, and it is essential to bolstering the resilience of staff.
As the Covid-19 crisis continues, I asked that we consider what our work will be like in the coming months, what the urgencies will be, and how should we prepare to meet the unknown and uncertain needs of our clients.
I would love to hear about your Be's during this time of Covid-19.
Wishing you all the best in good health,