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Leading an Organization Through the COVID-19 Crisis

Posted by Phil Buchanan on Mar 26, 2020 1:24:04 PM

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Editor’s note: Running an organization is a huge responsibility on its own, but doing so in today’s environment is truly a different beast. We are in uncharted waters. This post, originally published as a series of tweets by Phil Buchanan — president of the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) and author of "Giving Done Right: Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count" — touches on 15 things to keep in mind as you adjust to the many new realities that COVID-19 has created. You can view the original thread on Twitter, but we have posted it here with Phil’s permission for the BoardSource community.

Being in a leadership position of any kind at an organization of any size is a challenge in this moment. Some thoughts (which may or may not be helpful or remotely right but are running through my head).

  1. You can't communicate enough. People want to know what's going on — and that you're not minimizing and that you're on it. Use all the channels you have to communicate with folks. Be open and honest but also encouraging.
  2. Check in with people one on one — it is huge and will help you as much as (or more than) them. I am doing 10 min check-ins with the 45 or so folks on the @CEPData staff and these conversations help me know how people are doing and also lift my spirits big time.
  3. Empower folks to be creative in this moment. This is key. Step away from the specifics and be pleasantly surprised by what people can do. They know how your org can best be helpful in this moment.
  4. Recognize that parents are in a whole different boat than others during this time, especially parents of little ones. Support them and realize there is no way they can be productive in same way as folks who don't have small kids. Also, meet little ones over Zoom; it will make you happy.
  5. Update your board so it knows what you're doing, what you're thinking, what you're planning. And so it can help you! Your board members want to help you. They can probably help you more than you realize.
  6. Recognize we're entering a period when more and more folks on your staff will be affected by this virus. They will know people who get it. Some of them will get it. Talk now about how you will prepare for the fact that some staff will be going through a lot and need support.
  7. In the same vein, make sure you have contingencies and redundancies. Make sure you are prepared to operate with people — including yourself — out for an extended period. Who will perform those functions? Do they know what they need to know?
  8. Capture cost savings now. The more you can reduce costs now, the more flexibility you will have and the more likely you can avoid layoffs. We suspended all searches a week-plus ago to capture the savings relative to budget.
  9. Talk to your peers who lead other organizations in your space. Share what you're doing. Listen and learn from them. Talk about what you can do together to be helpful in this moment. Lean on each other! No one can do this alone.
  10. Take time for yourself. Step away and be with the people you love. Go for a walk. Get perspective. Watch a movie with your significant other or friend. Listen to music. Whatever gives you peace. (My family is having a Zoom dinner with our friends Friday — and we can't wait.)
  11. Realize you will make — and probably already have made — some big mistakes. Acknowledge them. It's a sign of strength, not weakness, and it allows others to know it's OK if they make mistakes too.
  12. Know we will get through this — and help folks understand what that might look like. How we can be stronger for what we have endured.
  13. Question all the usual operating assumptions — now is not the time to default to something just because it's how we have done it in the past.
  14. Know that you're doing your best. And that that's all you can do.
  15. One more: remember that if, like me, you are able to continue your organization's operations remotely, you're incredibly lucky. Find ways to support the many leaders and staff who don't have that option right now like @cgmoore (who I wrote about here).

Topics: COVID-19

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