By Dr. Hal M. Lewis
During this time of pandemic and economic despair, I am inspired by the daily bravery and fortitude of my clients, women and men who lead nonprofit organizations. As an executive coach, I do my best to guide and to counsel, even as I know full well that none of us has been here before. Over the past weeks, I have learned so much about courage and strength from these clients who are daily striving to stabilize and preserve the often-forgotten sector of nonprofit organizations. I offer this supplication on their behalf and in the name of countless colleagues trying our best to bring meaning and hope to a very scary world.
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In this time of sickness and death I pray for the ability to provide life-affirming guidance to my clients. Grant strength to those who lead and humility to those who counsel them.
As economic uncertainty rules the day and the future of our organizations seems increasingly uncertain, embolden the resolve of those who lead even when they lack all the information they require.
Inspire them to internalize the wisdom of Robert Louis Stevenson, who said, “Keep your fears to yourself but share your courage with others.”
As they walk a road they’ve never traveled before, bless our clients with the strength to overcome their fears and insecurities as they are forced to make horrible choices between untenable alternatives.
Teach them to know that in crisis the choice is rarely between right and wrong and most often between better and worse.
In their zeal to make the “best” decisions, keep them humble and help them to avoid magic bullet solutions.
Allow them to ask tough questions of those who have led in prior crises. Competence matters, especially now.
In a period of extremis when so many have a tendency to withdraw, may those who head our organizations come to appreciate the value of connection and collaboration, of idea exchanges, “personal advisory boards,” and “accountability partnerships.” May they willingly learn from and teach others.
Grant them the security to admit what they do not know, without fear that their leadership will be compromised or called into question.
When everyone is looking for easy answers, help them to avoid bravado and cocksureness. Teach them the difference between leading and cheerleading.
Keep them honest, forever reminding them that in times of crisis, people want the truth not fairy tales.
Grant them the confidence to be reflective, even when doing so can be especially frightening.
Remind them to take care of themselves and to “refill” their leadership through exercise or reading or calls with friends or whatever brings them respite. Encourage them to model this behavior for their teams as well.
Amidst the furloughs and the layoffs grant them the ability to distinguish between managing, that is, doing things right, and leadership, which is always about doing the right things.
When they feel most frightened and isolated, remind them that they are not alone and that what they are doing now matters more than ever.
Teach them that no matter how many times they have communicated with their stakeholders, team members, and constituents, it is never enough. When people are afraid and lacking certainty, they need the steady voice of their leaders even when the news is not good.
May those who lead continue to make hard decisions with compassion and understanding. Very little can change the harsh realities, certainly not words alone, but long after this is over people will remember how their leaders made them feel.
Surrounded by the all-pervasive madness and sadness, allow them to glimpse moments of optimism and light to galvanize and inspire those they lead.
Give them the confidence to know that there will be life after the pandemic. Instruct them that only the most agile and adaptable will survive. Help them to seek opportunities in this crisis beyond what they ever thought possible.
May they draw inspiration from the words of the poet, Robert Browning, “For sudden, the worst turns the best, to the brave.”
Remind them that they are role models whether they want to be or not. Especially in times of crisis, people are watching them.
May we live to see the day when good health, good jobs and good spirits return to our world, when safety and security (never again to be taken for granted) fill our lives and the lives of those we love and care for.
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An executive coach and organizational consultant specializing in the nonprofit sector, Dr. Hal M. Lewis is the Principal Consultant for Leadership For Impact LLC. He is a member of the faculty for the Center For Creative Leadership and is the current Chancellor and former President and CEO of Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership. He can be reached at [email protected]