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Leadership In A Time Of Adversity

The challenges we are all facing with the uncertainty of how to manage the COVID-19 crisis highlights how vital leadership is during an adverse time.

Crises move fast and slow simultaneously. The answers are not clear. Will you be guilty of over-reacting or under-reacting. No matter what actions a leader takes, there will be critics waiting to second-guess their decisions.

Leadership in a crisis is hard, but this is where true leaders emerge.

I went to my bookshelf and dusted off my copy of Doris Kearns Goodwin's book Leadership In Turbulent Times. Today seemed like a perfect time to reflect upon the lessons she draws on how four US Presidents (Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson) managed the major existential crises of their day.

Note: I am not going to delve into any of the politics of our day. The current crisis we are facing impacts leaders across the entire spectrum – business, education, government, and religion.

Goodwin observed that all four presidents shared these commonalities:

  • Personal growth born from loss and adversity.
  • Resilience
  • Humility (though she points out that some had to develop it during their leadership).
  • The ability to move people by storytelling.
  • Building a strong team of people who could disagree with them.
  • Emotional intelligence
  • The ability to put their negative emotions aside to have a positive public face.
  • A sense of moral purpose.
  • An ambition that they managed to put aside to address the problems they faced.

While our current COVID-19 crisis may not be on the magnitude of the Civil War, leaders today across the board a challenged on making the right decision. In the past 48 hours, I have seen cancellations and rescheduling of events ranging from our SHRM-Atlanta SOAHR conference to Gwinnett Church moving Sunday services to online.

Many of the cancellation and rescheduling decisions come with a financial cost. The decisions disrupt lives in so many ways – how to get child care for kids not being in school, how to make up the lost revenue from a major event or business meeting.

While it is not yet happening as of the time I write this blog, I expect that once this health crisis passes, we will have all of the second-guessers emerge with their critiques of what "should have been done."

For the time being, I hope that everyone will be supportive of the decisions to protect the safety of everyone and to get stop the spread and havoc of this deadly virus. Andy Stanley, Pastor of Northpoint/Gwinnett Church, summed it up perfectly by saying:

 If someone asks why your church chose to respond to this health crisis by closing its doors, here's my response:

We are loving our neighbors by protecting our neighbors.

We are not being fearful. We are being responsible.

This is what love requires of us in this season.

I hope everyone stays safe. We will all get through this together.

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