I wrote this column several weeks ago — before the murder of George Floyd, before the anguish, anger, pain, and outrage exploded across the world, before the horror of the injustice that persists in our country, in our world, and among us all became, rightly, the most talked-about subject of the day. And I am grateful to my vigilant and exemplary Black colleagues who work tirelessly for equity and justice, and who shine a light and teach me to use my mind, my heart, and my voice to do better — to work for a more inclusive and equitable world.
Over the past several months, the In Trust Center, like most organizations and educational institutions, has completely changed the way it does business. Not only are we working from home, but we have had to reimagine our programs and outreach. We have wholeheartedly embraced the technology that connects us to our members, constituents, and peers. We have held many webinars and have hosted facilitated videoconferences with theological school presidents, board chairs, and other leaders, all of whom are grappling with what their new normal is and what it will be in the coming months and years.
In most of these conversations, instead of despair, I have heard hope, gratitude, praise, support, and caring. For faculty who have pivoted at a moment’s notice to teaching all their classes online. For students whose education has been disrupted, who have
been displaced, and who have been forced to adapt suddenly to new educational experiences. For staff who are working remotely and finding new ways to get their jobs done from their living rooms, while still meeting deadlines and goals.
Of course, I have also heard a great deal of concern — about enrollment, fundraising, mission fulfillment, and financial stress. I have heard leaders muse that their crystal balls are broken, that the path forward is so very uncertain.
I have also heard positivity. Many reflect on the familiar idea that a “good crisis” ought not be wasted — that this stressful time, ironically, offers an opportunity to rethink norms and practices and possibilities for collaboration, change, and renewal.
From numerous conversations with leaders, it seems clear to me that there are at least three critical acts of leadership every leader should be tending to right now:
1. Careful communication. During periods of disruption and uncertainty, communities look to their leaders for direction and clarity. Consistent, direct, and honest communication is valued and needed.
2. Strategic thinking and scenario planning. Never has there been a more important time to engage in scenario planning, not simply for reopening campuses, but for long-term strategies. The Wall Street Journal, Inside Higher Education, and organizations such as Praxis have published numerous articles about planning — planning with many unknowns, leading without a map, and focusing on what lies ahead, not what came before.
3. Listening to different perspectives, welcoming new voices, and engaging new partners. Are you making room for different perspectives in your institution — and in the boardroom in particular? Legal counsel, insurance experts, development and marketing experts, and entrepreneurial visionaries are a few of the partners all of us should invite in to test ideas and explore solutions while mitigating risk. And remember, it is often the disruptors, dissenters, and challengers who inspire us to ask and consider the hard questions.
I pray for your leadership and for your communities during this uncertain time. Unprecedented times call for unprecedented leadership. May God provide you with the wisdom to lead, the grace to serve, and the vision to fulfill your mission.
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