Leadership in a Time of Crisis – Holding the Community Together

Here in New York City, we are beginning the 6th week of working remotely and providing live-streamed and online worship and small group opportunities for our congregation at Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan. I imagine it’s the same for many of you.
Everything has shifted…and people are looking for leadership in the midst of this crisis. It’s fair to say none of us has ever experienced anything like this before. I was in New York on September 11, 2001, serving as pastor of a congregation in Manhattan.
This crisis is so much more challenging than 9/11 because it’s an invisible threat, a virus that moves from person to person easily and quickly, and we have no idea when things will get better. 9/11 was a catastrophic event but the clean-up began immediately. COVID-19 is something altogether different.

Here are some thoughts I have had about leadership during these weeks:

Leadership in a Time of Crisis – Holding the Community Together:

Acknowledge the pain and fear…aloud and often - Give words to what people are experiencing that they can’t express themselves.
Make it clear you hear and feel the pain and fear people are experiencing. Make it plain that you as a leader are with your people in heart and soul and spirit.

At the same time, find a way to acknowledge the hope and faith that we will get to the other side of this crisis…because we will.
On the other side of this crisis, you as a leader want people to remember you were with them spiritually and emotionally not just as a manager but as a leader and messenger of hope in the midst of fear and sadness.

Communication is key - Over-communicate as much as possible; err on the side of over-communicating. People need to hear from leaders often right now.
Send out the same information in multiple forms. Put the same messaging on your website, social media platforms, e-blasts and figure out a way to send a hard copy to those in your congregation who don’t use email or have access to the internet (at Marble we discovered we have 300 households with no access to the internet!).

Balance immediate needs with a longer-term vision – People need to know what is happening right now and feel assurance that someone is providing steady, calm leadership during the crisis.
Once they’re assured leaders are figuring out immediate needs, a sense of calm and comfort can emerge. Solid leaders hold the community together. After immediate needs have been addressed and communicated, ask yourself “How can the decisions I am making right now help this community be stronger on the other side of the crisis?”

Be able to shift quickly, if needed - Part of strong leadership is the ability to acknowledge the need to step onto another path, if needed, and do it nimbly and quickly.
At Marble the list of households without internet access included a large percentage of our older congregants. We quickly put together a Caring Callers program and divided up these households so they would receive a phone call at least twice a week to check in and see if they were o.k. and had any needs.

Clarity – Times of crisis can breed confusion. Leadership in times like these takes focus and communicating with clarity to your community.
One of the things that has been most compelling about Governor Andrew Cuomo’s leadership and daily briefings in New York is the clarity of his messaging. He is direct, firm, honest and clear. The visuals he uses gives a quick, concise synopsis of what’s happening in New York.
It’s not all positive. Much of it is very sobering. Yet, there is something about the clarity of the messaging that gives people hope and a sense of calm amidst this storm.

Take care of yourselves and give yourselves the grace to know you won’t make all of the perfect, or even right, decisions all the time. That’s o.k. Do the best you can and be true to your faith and convictions. You are not alone, and you will get through this.

Rev. Elise Brown | Consultant | Kairos and Associates & The Joshua Group | elise@kairosandassociates.com