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Three Essentials for Leadership in the Time of Coronavirus

In the short span of a month, our lives have been turned upside down. We are quarantined. We know people who have COVID-19. We know people who have died from it. We wonder if we have it. Some of us do. We work from home now, or we have lost our jobs. (Unless we are essential employees, in which case we are exposed to the virus daily.)

We feel the financial impact. We feel the loss of freedom. We feel fear. We feel sadness. And, in the midst of it, sometimes we feel amazement. And connection. And love. What does leadership look like in the time of coronavirus? A few essentials stand out to me as I wrestle with my own leadership challenges at this time. Here are three things leaders can do in any setting in which they find themselves.

First, provide a non-anxious presence. Now more than ever, leaders must heed Edwin Friedman’s advice to remain calm and grounded in the midst of swirling emotions. Spiritual groundedness growing out of self-care, daily spiritual practice, and connection to spiritual community will do more than anything else to calm the atmosphere, help people think clearly and be their best selves, and discover a way forward together.

Second, remember that you are human, too. As leaders, we feel fear, sadness, anger, and grief, just as those we lead do. We need to give ourselves permission to feel all our feelings. We need people with whom we can be vulnerable and cry. We need time for spiritual practice, to be held in the great Love that is beyond us, beyond the virus, beyond this time in history.

Third, remember that, in the words of Queen Esther, “If I perish, I perish.” We are all mortal. Despite taking all precautions, I may contract the virus. I may die from it. Shalem may not survive a long siege. While we must do our best to take personal precautions, safeguarding our health as best we can, and while we must be faithful stewards of the leadership responsibilities entrusted to us, our ultimate task is not self-preservation. Nor is our ultimate task perpetuating the institutions we lead. Our ultimate task is serving the greater good, serving God. If our institutions can’t adapt to the new world in which we find ourselves, it’s time to ask, “Have we served our purpose in the world? Is it time for us to disband and let others carry our work forward?”

Providing a non-anxious presence, remembering that we too are human, and living with an awareness of our own mortality and that of our institutions will go a long way toward helping the people we lead be their best selves. With our people at their best, the groups we lead can experience creativity, connection, and hope even in these times. And with our families, teams, and organizations at their best, they will be who they are called to be and do what they are called to do, even in a time of coronavirus.

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Elizabeth Tippett
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Elizabeth Tippett

Thank you Margaret for your leadership. This is a beautiful expression of a life of faith and service.