Mar 2020

Managing the Surreal

The last few weeks have been a funky time warp. A month ago, my wife and I were vacationing in Texas and Arizona, hiking, eating out every day, going to museums. Four weeks later and we have scarcely left the house except for groceries and the occasional walk around the neighborhood.

COVID-19 has radically changed the daily pace of our lives.

At Page Two Partners, we meet monthly as a cohort of professional leaders. But as is the case with most organizations, our meeting rhythm has needed adjusting. Once a month isn’t enough when it feels like so much is changing day to day. We are now checking in as a group on a weekly basis with additional fill-in meetings during the week as needed.

We’ve also been reaching out to Executive Directors in our network to provide a sounding board for decision making that would otherwise occur in a vacuum. One E.D. I spoke with confessed that her board had all but abandoned her, their attention turned to keeping their respective businesses and organizations alive. The carefully planned strategy she outlined in January now seems like a quaint notion with all plans needing to be reassessed immediately. Her board meeting agenda for this month requires a totally different approach. Foundations announced new emergency grant programs which means spending time filling out more grant applications. Programs are needing real time recalibration and staff, volunteers, and contractors need reassurance and updated guidance on what to do, where to do it, and in some cases how. It’s like all the emergency lights on the nuclear reactor control console are blinking at the same time. Where to put one’s attention?

Each organization will have its own urgent priorities. Leadership is borne from managing uncertainty when there is no single right answer. We wade in and do our best to make decisions with the limited information we have at the time…and we try not to be too hard on ourselves when some of those decisions turn out to be incorrect. We try to stay standing, make new decisions with new information and keep moving forward.

In her case, she reached out to help from some trusted advisors who could supplement the leadership support she normally received from her very distracted board. Then she asked for some very specific help from individual board members with particular areas of expertise: “Can you work on new language for an emergency message on our website? Can you reach out to our Senator’s office to see if we can become a channel to distribute money to distressed entrepreneurs? Can you talk to your contact at the foundation to see if we will qualify for funds to help our clients who are affected by this crisis?  

By making specific asks she avoided the situation that often happens when we put out a blanket request: Can someone please help me with X? And then no one steps forward, hoping someone else will do it. A specific, timely, ask to an individual is hard to refuse and it becomes an essential leadership skill in times of crisis.

How are you managing differently right now?

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