“Never Waste a Crisis”

Dana Hlusko

It seems that every leadership webinar is hosting crisis leadership presentations.  We’ve written about Craig Groeschel before, a pastor and leadership expert who publishes a monthly podcast on leadership. https://www.life.church/leadershippodcast/

This month he did a special edition on “Leading in Crisis”.  Here is his advice for living and leading in a crisis such as Covid-19.

“Every major crisis creates unexpected problems.  Every major crisis creates unprecedented opportunities.”  You might find the latter opinion puzzling but think about it.  When everything is turned upside down, it’s easier to see opportunities for improvement.  The effective leader will have a “top floor view,” looking at the situation from above while the crisis unfolds, addressing the problems without ignoring the opportunities.

There are 3 areas where opportunities may arise:

  1. Practical – “Never waste a crisis.” Take this opportunity to make changes to areas that you’ve known needed addressing but were low priority.  For example, there is a parish that has struggled to get pastoral care teams going for each segment of their group of liturgy ministers.  The opportunity for this time that is very practical is that where once there didn’t seem to be a need for this approach, now they have both a need and a structure that can be implemented.  Very practical now where once it seemed “nice” but they were getting along without it.     
  2. Financial opportunities – perhaps there’s an opportunity to improve the financial standing of your parish. Make changes to how you obtain your funding.  Right now, with churches closed, more people have signed up for online giving.  If you respond quickly to newly seen needs, you can create value, and possibly new ministries.  Take this chance to make changes.
  3. Missional opportunities – there are now needs/opportunities to speak good news into lives of people who have been closed off.  For example, my parish is calling each parishioner to check on them and offering volunteers available to help others.  There may be ways you can step into a void to help the mission of your parish.  For example, your church can volunteer to sew face masks in this crisis.  Open the food pantry 5 days a week instead of 2.  This is also the time to help people with their spiritual lives rather than their intellectual lives:  prayers, blessings, music, recommended spiritual reading, spiritual companionship, online spiritual direction etc. 

Leaders must be able to clearly define the problems and proactively address them.  Keep the top floor view.  Don’t be reactive.  Non-thought out knee-jerk reactions could waste the opportunity, create more havoc or negatively impact your mission.

In this time, we have several problems to handle:

  1. Covid-19
  2. Fear – may be compounding the main problem
  3. Economic impact
  4. Public perception of your behavior. What message are you trying to send?

How do you address the problems?  Groeschel ranks them in tiers:

  1. What is mission critical to the organization?
  2. What is strategically important but not mission critical?
  3. What is helpful but not essential?
  4. What is coming to you externally?

You must define the tiers of importance.  You can see that the importance moves from most important to least important.  What is mission critical to a parish?  Proclaiming the Good News?  Keeping the “doors open financially?”  You, as leader, must decide.

This is the time to create short term plans for the immediate crisis while still keeping the top floor view.

  1. Create a plan but expect to get it wrong. You must be able to change and adapt quickly since the situation is fluid and without precedent in our lifetimes.
  2. Think long term but keep plans short term.  Short term could be week by week, day by day, hour by hour.  Thinking long term means using that top floor view, watching trends, knowing your people, engaging contingency thinking and being familiar with change theory, while at the same time being nimble enough to respond to new information and directives
  3. Communication is essential
    1. Communicate empathetically.   While facts are important, so are feelings.  Acknowledge staff and parishioners fears such as losing a job, contracting the virus, missing major life events and the fear generated by uncertainty.   
    2. Communicate truthfully. Tell the truth no matter what kind of news it is.  People can handle bad news better than no news.   Speak confidently, not definitively.
    3. Communicate frequently. You cannot over communicate.  Be sure to tell the “why” as well as the “what.”

In addition to these elements of a crisis plan, the leader needs to have a self-awareness plan and some leadership tools.

  1. Self-awareness is important. By that I mean being selective in what you share.  You are having the same emotions your team is.  Acknowledge them to yourself.   You may well have to furlough or layoff some staff members.  This is always hard and sometimes not very pretty.  Give yourself permission to step fully into the pain.  Remember what you still have:  faith, health, mental health, your capabilities…
  2. An assessment of your culture in the here and now
  3. Clarity in your communication
  4. Ability to lead change

We have written about these tools in previous blogs so I invite you to access the Blog option on the website.  If you’d like too speak with us about how to develop and use these tools, please contact us.

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