Laney Whitcanack, CEO of Coro Northern California and believer that we are better together, shares her thoughts on leading during uncertain times.
Let’s level set with some facts:
- As we all grapple with the evolving situation related to COVID-19, you have to make decisions that impact many people (your team, clients, customers, students), in a compressed amount of time.
- You will have incomplete information.
- People are looking to you/your team to show leadership and compassion.
- People are often looking for authority and order in times of uncertainty (even if this isn’t a central part of your leadership style).
# 1. Share what is guiding your organizational decision making during the uncertainty. Your values are probably consistent with what they were before, but given the circumstances, it’s good to clarify what sources of information you’re using to make decisions. Here are some examples from Coro (we run leadership training programs):
Value: Employee and participant health
“We are basing our decisions related to employee and participant health during this time on public health advisories from SF Department of Public Health [or whatever public health source you are using]. Please note that these are frequently updated and we will share updates and their impacts on our organization as they are provided.”
Value: Program integrity and accessibility
“To ensure that attendees are able to participate and have a high quality experience, we may need to modify or postpone training.”
Value: Financial health and stewardship of the organization
“We know that leadership training is our core business and that if we are not able to deliver these services, our financial stability is impacted.” Sharing a goal about what undergirds the organization financially is an important piece and needs to be explicit, so everyone is on the same page.
Share these broadly with your team, your board (get board affirmation or approval, if you can), your partners, etc. You are essentially explaining the factors guiding your decision-making. Explain that these factors may change as you have more information, but clarify the baseline criteria that are guiding your decisions. Share them frequently. Transparency is essential when you have to make tough decisions.
# 2. Set expectations for what you expect of people during this uncertain time. How do you expect yourself and your team/organization to conduct themselves? At Coro, we said that we need everyone to focus on keeping “clear-eyed, connected, calm, and graceful.” That is, to assume that we are all trying our best to move through this set of circumstances. Providing a touchstone for people, including yourself, can provide a sense of stability. As my colleague Tomi Nagai-Rothe says, “Be like seaweed when you need to, and bamboo when you need to.” You want to be rooted in these expectations but able to flex with the unknown.
#3. Over-communicate with a regular cadence, especially if you’re working virtually. Even if people are working remotely, they still need to feel connected (this is true all the time, even if you regularly telecommute).
For example, for the duration of the unknowns related to COVID-19, we have scheduled a daily, virtual stand-up meeting for 15 minutes. It’s a time for our team to make updates, share information, and quickly check in — all related to the uncertainty at hand. While you might say, “Isn’t it more efficient to do this over email?” don’t forget that there are humans behind every keyboard and people need connection. Fifteen minutes a day of live time isn’t too much, especially if it keeps people engaged and focused.
Externally, Coro has been communicating regularly with people to share our goals (see #1) and any information relevant to our stakeholder groups. Clarity can create a sense of calm, even in uncertainty. So the more clarity the better.
#4. Remind people of the circumstances under which YOU will be making decisions — time will likely be compressed and information will likely be incomplete. Tell them that you welcome their feedback and will debrief processes LATER — but for now, you need them to get on the bus and respect the decision. Remind your team that there is no roadmap, so you really need them to exercise the grace you talk about in your shared expectations (see #2). You will use the goals you’ve shared (see #1) to guide decision-making, and are committed to sharing information as things change.
#5. Say thank you. A lot.
You’ve got this.
Thoughts or feedback? Contact Laney at lwhitcanack [at] coronorcal [dot] org.