Non-profit leaders are masters of resilience. An anticipated grant doesn’t come through, a skilled staff member departs, critical political support evaporates in the face of conflicting priorities leaving a carefully built coalition in shambles. Coronavirus? We got this!
Hard-won resilience muscles serve leaders in times of crisis. All those setbacks, lost grants, and failures over the years have been preparing us for this very moment to persist and rally to fight another day. The resilience we model as leaders can be vital for our staff who may not share our experience bouncing back from life’s slings and arrows. This is the time to cultivate the great strength that our organizations and our communities will need as we go forward. How do we do that? The American Psychological Association recommends four components for building resilience: connection, wellness, healthy thinking and meaning.
Seek connections to feel grounded and to lift spirits. Some connections may be connections at work, some will be friends and family near and far. Finding someone with whom to connect every day – a childhood friend we haven’t talked to in a while, a cousin who always makes us laugh, the wise friend who just seems to get us. When we are feeling supported, we can then turn to our staff members who need connection right now too – connection to each other, connection to our mission, and connection to us.
This is weird for everyone, but not everyone is experiencing the same weirdness. Chris, who is now trying to entertain, feed, and educate children all day while working from home, is having a very different experience from Alex, who lives alone and hasn’t experienced human touch in weeks. Pat is now cooped up in a small apartment with a partner all day while Andy worries about a partner who is a healthcare provider stepping into danger every day. There is no one-size-fits-all response to the connection needs our team members face, but simply naming the weirdness can go a long way toward normalizing it. Using virtual tools, we can foster a new virtual culture for the office that keeps people connected.
New ways of connecting
• Start each meeting with check-ins: How are people doing? What’s one good thing from the last 24 hours? What’s one thing that would help in the next 24 hours?
• Remember that introverts and extroverts have different needs, so in addition to large meetings, try small groups and individual check-ins
• Welcome kids to a meeting
• Invite people to introduce their pets
• Have an office “happy hour” with families and roommates invited as well
• Hold a home “office” photo contest
If staff feel they’re all in this weird place together, they may come out the other side of this isolation as an even stronger team, knowing they can support each other through anything.
Prioritizing wellness is hard to do under stress, but it has never been more important. Eating nutritious food, moving our bodies every day throughout the day, getting enough sleep, and making space to clear our minds are all critical to overall wellness. Some people meditate, some people doodle, some people dance in the living room – what matters is that we are doing something that feels healing and supportive and just for us. When our wellness is strong, we can more effectively help our staff members. Invite people to share their self-care strategies with each other. Promoting wellness as a priority in a crisis may well continue once “normal life” resumes, resulting in a healthier, happier staff.
Cultivate healthy thoughts. When life feels out of control, our minds may not necessarily turn to healthy thoughts, so a conscious intervention may be in order. Catastrophizing, imagining worst case scenarios, can quickly lead to spiraling visions of despair. Meditation experts guide us to redirect our minds to the present moment and to remind ourselves that we don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. All we know is what is true today, right now, in this moment. We have survived challenges in the past, personal or professional, and we can survive whatever the present moment gives us right now. Foster hope by thinking and talking about the scenarios we want and steps we can concretely take in that direction.
Nobody feels positive all the time (or maybe even most of the time right now!) but inviting the positive into the room can help shift the thought patterns in a healthier direction.
Find Meaning in the mission. As leaders of nonprofits, we find meaning in the mission of our organizations and our staff members probably do too. This can be really important in a time of turmoil. What do we do as an organization? Why do we do it? Our work has purpose. We are here for a reason. If the organization’s mission is difficult to accomplish in this time of isolation, it may be particularly important to highlight the things we can still do, the things we have already done, and things we are looking forward to doing in the future. We can also work with staff to find meaning in these unusual circumstances by investing time in strategic questions that normally sit on the back burner:
• What new communication strategies might benefit our organization?
• How can our teams work together differently?
• What new or different board process that might be helpful?
• How might we take care of each other in the future?
When this current crisis is past, revisiting what we have learned can provide the simple knowledge that we are learning from this experience. This gives the pain and grief meaning, building resilience for future events that will challenge us.
This coronavirus crisis will pass and we will all be changed on the other side. We don’t know yet what the full impact will be, but we do know that we will be better, stronger, and more resilient if this crisis brings us into closer connection with each other, fosters new wellness strategies, exercises our ability to focus on healthy thoughts, and focuses us all on meaning and purpose.
Keep doing good work! You got this!
For more ideas, check out these resources:
American Psychological Association. (2020, February 1).Building your resilience. http://www.apa.org/topics/resilience
The Three Secrets of Resilient People, a TEDx talk by LucyHone: https://www.ted.com/talks/lucy_hone_the_three_secrets_of_resilient_people?utm_campaign=tedspread&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=tedcomshare
The Science of Well-Being, a Yale University course offered for free by Coursera https://www.coursera.org/learn/the-science-of-well-being/home/welcome
Punch Through Pandemics with Psychological Science, a free course offered by Oregon State University https://liberalarts.oregonstate.edu/sps/punchcovid19