As the months drag on, the COVID-19 pandemic is teaching us what it means to lead through an epic disruption. We have no road map. We do, however, have a trait that is most helpful at times like these: agility. For all our talk about agility when it comes to students, it can be daunting to have to experiment, execute, and learn from our failures and successes as adults who seek to identify (or even invent) that road map for the school’s future.
When circumstances are in flux, when reliable data points to which we’ve been accustomed are anything but reliable, when resources are scarce (or appropriately tight), when key stakeholders (faculty and staff, parents, donors, and more) are under pressure, how we respond is the test of our mettle…how we respond to the apparent turbulence that surrounds us.
How might we respond?
1. Empower everyone to be a problem-solver. If we focus on purpose–and on learning, we can solve anything. We can identify and deliver breakthroughs that impact lives. That may require us to learn ‘at speed.’ We may need to identify a niche operational model that is designed for experimentation: collect intelligence, validate what data points we can, then develop working hypotheses from those data points, act, and then learn from the results. Better yet, if we employ Roger Martin’s model of identifying multiple alternatives and asking what would have to be true for a given alternative to work, we can mitigate risk to a high degree and avoid community fall-out.
2. Look outward. In such circumstances, we cannot be isolationist. We need to determine whom to support (as well as whom to influence) in order to get the resources we need, in order to test our assumptions, in order to adapt. If COVID-19 has taught us anything (and it has taught us much), it has shown us that system-level challenges require system-level responses. In other words, the ‘business’ of schools is dependent on other civic and public structures. Collective engagement is critical, when it comes to a path forward. We have to make all boats rise.
3. As leaders, we must be prepared to adapt (ourselves). We cannot let go of our own well-being and development. We need this combination in order to serve and lead communities. Courage and endurance are the name of the game, as is moral imagination. How might we envision a more inclusive path toward that which we desire as a school community? Regarding those in our communities who may have been feeling marginalized, how might we attend to (and/or repair) those relationships? We must exude purpose and trust; at times, earning trust comes from showing some vulnerability on our own part. We are human, after all: our authenticity matters, as Bill George would say.
If we respond in these ways, we will earn the levels of resilience within our own organizations, as well as within ourselves. We will notice, as if with fresh eyes, talent within our schools…faculty and staff whose leadership is unleashed in this kind of circumstance. Then, our eyes will be opened to that which is possible, as we dream of our next steps forward in a landscape that feels less uncertain.