Last week was crazy and this week is shaping up to be surreal. Leaders of youth-serving organizations are skilled, but the COVID-19 crisis is putting those skills to the test. Here are three mantras to keep you going this week.
I am a flexible and creative leader.
What was unthinkable a month ago has come to pass—schools cancelled, programs cancelled, professional events postponed or moved virtually. As executive directors, boards, program directors and school leaders consider the implications of the removal of critical services, we have all witnessed leadership moments that have been terribly stressful and overwhelming.
Through this, it’s striking that as leaders in community we’ve been able to find or develop unique responses. There’s been a shift away from “the way we’ve always done it” with a willingness to try new approaches, risk failure and look for grace and understanding from each other. This crisis has provided an opportunity to stretch ourselves, to hone our priorities and consider new ways of operating in the world.
Practicing flexibility in the midst of crisis means it’s time to do things you’ve probably been meaning to do anyway like meditation, yoga and aerobic exercise. It also means allowing yourself to consider unusual solutions, bring in multiple perspectives and challenge previously held beliefs. You already have this capacity. Now is the time to use it.
I am focused on the health and safety of my entire team and the communities we serve.
Practicing social distancing or remote working is not for ourselves as individuals, but rather to support the greater community. In solidarity. As a whole. And yet we know that so many people—including many program staff—do not have the luxury of social distancing without serious negative consequences.
This crisis has underscored the socioeconomic differences and racist systems our programs and organizations are embedded within. Prioritizing health and safety of the entire team requires us to take great care to center justice and not simply carry on business as usual. For example, it may be tempting to continue with staff meetings by offering a hybrid approach where staff who “feel comfortable” meet in person and others call in or join online. This leaves the onus on individual staff to opt out or opt in; and, creates an othering situation for those who cannot attend the meeting due to home responsibilities or lack of internet access.
As leaders, we must prioritize health and safety of everyone. We must make the call to postpone or virtualize events. We must figure out flexible remote working opportunities that enable everyone to work by providing equipment or paying for data plans. We must work to provide some version of paid-time-off to support our teams.
I have a strong voice and will use it.
Now is the time to acknowledge that our primary role as a leaders in a youth-serving organization is to be an advocate and an activist. We each have a strong voice in our organizations and our communities. We already speak out on behalf of young people, their families and the caring adults who serve them through your programming. Let’s bump it up.
In DeRay McKesson’s keynote address at the NAA20 Convention Reimagined, he highlighted that activists need to say what we need, not what we think we can get. As leaders of youth-serving organizations, we must tell funders, stakeholders, elected officials what we actually need and talk about it like it is normal—because it is normal. We cannot do our work without funding to keep the operations going. We should not be jumping through hoops or adding more special initiatives when we need money to keep the doors open.
Maybe you haven’t been so bold in the past. Maybe you’ve been “more strategic” with your funding relationships. This is an opportunity to let the funding community know your needs. For inspiration, check out Washington Nonprofits Open Letter to Funders and Vu Le’s post, A Few Things for Nonprofits and Foundations to Consider in Light of the Coronavirus.
Think of these mantras as self-coaching tools, ways to focus in the midst of all this tumult. You actually already know this stuff. You already have this capacity within you to do them. Are you already doing them? Let us know how!