Nonprofit Personal Growth

Leadership in Times of Crisis

Leadership in times of crisis reminds us how challenging it is to manage your own stress while supporting others. While much of the world is sheltering in place or physically distancing themselves from others to prevent the spread of COVID-19, many people are finding themselves unemployed or facing incredible uncertainty. How we lead in moments like this can significantly impact the lives of others. How do we manage our own stress and anxiety with the weight of this responsibility? Here are a few things I am working on:

This post originally appeared on the BOOST Blog on April 2, 2020.

Leadership in times of crisis reminds us how challenging it is to manage your own stress while supporting others. While much of the world is sheltering in place or physically distancing themselves from others to prevent the spread of COVID-19, many people are finding themselves unemployed or facing incredible uncertainty. How we lead in moments like this can significantly impact the lives of others. How do we manage our own stress and anxiety with the weight of this responsibility? Here are a few things I am working on:

1. Prioritize Self-care

As a leader, you may feel an irresistible inclination to give everything you can to the community and your team members. This impulse is honorable, but if you intend to serve the community for any meaningful amount of time you must also take care of yourself. This looks different for everyone, but here’s where I will suggest that you eat well, exercise, meditate, go to therapy, get plenty of sleep, drink water, and look up from your phone.

2. Show Gratitude

If you are anything like me, during a crisis you might be quick to focus on action and forget to really see your fellow humans. This begins with small habits, like thanking people and providing positive and meaningful praise. At the end of the day, it is about prioritizing people over all else. How we treat others right now can define us.

3. WAIT… Why Am I Talking?

I often need to stop and ask myself, “Why am I Talking?” in an intense conversation. Do I need to be right? Do I need to be the one with the solution? Am I listening to those around me? Am I jumping too quickly to action or overthinking? The only way to know what those around us need (whether they be our students, co-workers, family, etc.) is to listen to them. Stop talking for a minute and listen. It will ensure others feel valued and it will help you value them more.

4. Identify and Share Resources

If for example there is a great deal of uncertainty – maybe because of a global pandemic – there are more resources available than you might think. In addition to reliable information on this virus and current conditions, the CDC has also provided some resources on managing anxiety and stress related to COVID-19. You need help too – even if it is just someone to talk to. As a leader, you should share this kind of information with your staff or clients.

5. Be Kind to Yourself

You can’t save everyone. You are going to experience failure sometimes. You’re not going to get it right every time, and sometimes you are going to put your foot in your mouth. Don’t beat yourself up over it; learn from it and move forward. When we tell ourselves depressive thoughts like, “I always say the wrong thing,” or “I’ve never been good at this,” or worse, “I am not good enough,” we let these little lies eat away at us. We think these depressive thoughts… which lead to depressive feelings… which lead to depressive actions… and before you know it, we’ve gone and proven ourselves right. Be kind to yourself. You’ve got this.

I don’t know what to do about this pandemic and I am not going to pretend I do. I’m not any less stressed or anxious about literally everything than you probably are. I just hope this serves as a reminder to other leaders – and to myself – we have the tools to help us navigate complicated times as imperfect people. I am better when I take care of myself, show gratitude, listen, ask for help, and learn from mistakes – and so are you.

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Daren Howard is a social sector consultant and writer. He currently serves as a member of the Board of Directors at InPlay, a nonprofit that seeks to increase equitable access to after school and summer learning programs. Daren earned his MBA at California State University Dominguez Hills, but will never be done learning.

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