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Leadership in Times of Crisis

While in-person events have been changed dramatically by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, virtual events have become an important tool for people to connect without traveling. NCSEA’s regular Web Talks have always been a great way for child support leaders to build their knowledge, and they’re more valuable now than ever.

I recently led an NCSEA Web Talk for the Leadership Affinity group that focused on “Leadership in Times of Crisis.” The principles apply to far more than just child support. So I thought I would share this condensed version of my presentation for the wide variety of government agency leaders who work with Conduent as a trusted partner—everyone from Health and Human Services Commissioners to State Treasurers to emerging leaders in healthcare eligibility, benefits disbursement and unemployment programs.

One tried-and-true principle that I have found especially resonant in these days is that experience really is the best teacher. While nothing quite like the coronavirus has happened in the past several decades, what we’re seeing now reminds me in many ways of the disasters of the recent past. In my home state of Louisiana, the pandemic’s impacts remind of the days following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita: shortages of food on grocery store shelves; frustrated and desperate people looking for help; and health care and social services operating above their capacities. There are daunting challenges everywhere you look.

But regardless of whether you’ve led through a crisis like this before, here’s the key question: How do you lead your team through crisis in a positive way?

Purposeful vision. My first recommendation is to maintain a positive outlook, which can be hard to do in such challenging times, but as your team looks to you for strength, communicating with positivity sets a great example. Gathering your team of knowledgeable and helpful people and using their strengths also makes a big difference. Remember where you have been and envision where you want to be.  A clear vision for the future sets you on a path of purpose and focuses you on the right priorities. 

Patience under pressure. Extend your own positive attitude to create a positive culture and lead with integrity, optimism, patience and empathy. Are there leaders in your organization who share your vision and values? Work with them and develop their skills further to make them even more valuable members of the team—everyone will benefit. And remember that some things take time. In dire situations the desire is strong to seek immediate solutions, and in some cases fast action is best, but speed alone won’t solve these challenges. Keep the long view in mind.

Practical endurance. There is no finish line. What does that mean? In the early days of the coronavirus epidemic people hoped aloud for things to “get back to normal,” but it has become increasingly clear that we can’t just flip a switch to make things go back the way they were. There will be gradual changes as states re-open for business, but the impacts will be felt for a long time, and so your agency’s goals will be similarly affected. I said it before, but it bears repeating: some things take time.

Proven character. Your response in crisis shapes your character and reveals who you really are. The good news is that while today’s challenges may seem insurmountable, you almost certainly have the reserves of strength and intelligence that it takes to successfully lead your organization forward. Your agency reflects the character of its leaders and the collective energy of the leaders throughout your agency can strengthen you in these times. People naturally follow strong leaders that they trust; be one of those leaders, and your true character will shine through.

Nothing will make these times easy. But strong leadership can make a difference – for you, your team, and the people who are relying on you, now more than ever.