Leading when the world seems on fire

by | Mar 13, 2020 | CEO/Executive Directors, Focus | 0 comments

For the past couple of weeks, it’s feeling like the world is on fire. The WHO announcing this Covid-19 coronavirus is now a pandemic. Stock markets around the world falling so quickly some exchanges have temporarily suspended trading. And conferences, classes, and entire sports seasons and festivals being cancelled or suspended.

Much of my coaching for the last two has been helping leaders handle fear in the midst of crisis. While it would be tempting to binge-watch shows on Netflix, your staff and clients need you to show up each day.

Here are the three ways to lead that I shared with my Follow Up Friday subscribers.

(1) Find ways to express gratitude

In my recent blog post on fundraising in a recession, I say “Gratitude overcomes fear. Because gratitude rekindles hope.”

And as a leader in this environment, you’ll need hope. A simple way to rekindle hope is to make thank you calls to customers, clients, or donors. Something as simple as

“Hi [their name], this is [your name] from [your org]. Just wanted to call to say ‘thank you.’ We are grateful for your support/trust/loyalty/use of us.”

Not having an “ask” can be hard. But you think of it as writing a thank you note to your grandmother. You’d just thank her. And maybe tell her what you did with her gift. As fundraising speaker Lynne Wester says, you wouldn’t end that note with “And the Cabbage Patch Kid is on sale for $49.95 for the next four days. I’d really like you to buy that too.”

If you don’t have a regular practice of doing these calls or notes, it will feel awkward at first. So did riding a bike or even learning to walk. But you will find your rhythm. And people will be thankful for even fumbled expressions of gratitude.

You can offer help, if there is something you can really do. For example, as I’ve seen conference organizers cancel events, I’ve emailed several sharing how agonizing that decision must have been, thanking them for their courage, and offering to help with virtual sessions if they needed to do something for the people who would’ve attended. These emails have been very well received.

(2) Seek alternative revenue sources

Unless you sell hand sanitizer or toilet paper, your revenue will likely be affected. So plan for it. Not only with belt tightening and cost cutting. For weeks, I’ve been encouraging clients to seek other revenue streams.

  • Many nonprofit clients have fundraising events that likely won’t happen. So they’re needing to shift their sponsorship asks to be more like major gift asks – generous support without the result of lots of people showing up in one place. If needed, there are lots of ways you can “give exposure” to sponsors. And those will likely get them in front of more people than your traditional event would.
  • Another client has been doing online school for over a decade. So we spent much of our coaching call on ways they could help others while being paid. Things like opening up their platform to schools needing an online alternative, coaching for school leaders looking for a platform, and running informational webinars. And we created a strategy for optimizing the sharing of the 8-page tip sheet (booklet really) they put together this week.
  • Restaurants might think about offering packaged food for people staying at home. Delivered by the waitstaff that would’ve served their table (instead of a random driver). This could build trust with customers and keep some level of employment for servers.
  • And I know my fellow keynote speakers and trainers are shifting to offering virtual sessions on video or Zoom calls. Their corporate and nonprofit clients still need training and expertise, we just need to offer it in a way that fits with the social distancing our countries currently need.

There are ways to rethink your services that are ethical, helpful to others, and will provide some revenue for your organization.

(3) BMW – Feeling the feels

Experts tell us one of the worst things we can do with emotions is to stuff them. The more we stuff them, the uglier they’ll be when they come out. And they will come out.

When I was training as an executive coach back in 2003, I learned about “BMW sessions.” When a coach heard his clients start to whine, he’d call a 10-minute BMW session. They’d have 10 minutes to bitch, moan, and whine. Brené Brown calls this “pissing and moaning with perspective.”

I remember doing it once while in my car. I just started complaining, yelling, even swearing. I really went at it. It felt great to get it all out. When I was done, I looked at my watch and started laughing. I hadn’t even used up the 10 minutes!

We need to allow ourselves to feel our emotions. Not in front of everyone. But with a trusted friend, advisor, or coach.

An alternative is to practice some level of what is often called “mindfulness.” That could be centering prayer or yoga or, as Suzanne Stabile calls it, “having a sit.” Brain expert Jessica Sharp talks about the negative impact stress has on our ability to make good decisions. This mindfulness or centering or contemplation helps reduce the cortisol and get ourselves out of the knee-jerk, fear-based reactions cortisol creates.

Jessica’s training “What Nonprofit Leaders Need to Know About the Brain” is helpful for helping leaders understand what is going on with their staff, their clients, and themselves. I’ve removed the paywall for this training. If you’d like to watch it free, go to: https://thenonprofitacademy.com/trainings/know-the-brain/

Take care of yourself but don’t check out

Leaders don’t get to “check out.” Your role is needed now more than ever. And following up – with the right tone and heart-attitude – is a vital part of your leadership. 

What are you doing to lead through these challenging times? Let us know in the comments below.

And thank you. Your team and your community need your leadership now more than ever.


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