h digitalfootprint web 728x90

On Leadership: Reflections on leading through disruption


The last year and a half has been filled with constant disruption, from the ever-evolving pandemic, economic volatility and amplification of racial equity issues to the election — and for those of us in Iowa, a derecho. Leaders in all types of organizations have been forced to rapidly adapt. 

Certainly this has been the case for me. As I look back, much of 2020 seems like a blur as I navigated changes for our organization while simultaneously attempting to care for others and myself. So it hit home when I read a Deloitte report called “Leading through the fog of disruption.” That report referred to a classic Harvard Business Review article in which authors Warren Bennis and Robert Thomas argued that harrowing experiences shape us, and crises force leaders into “deep self-reflection,” where they “examine their values, question their assumptions, and hone their judgment.”

I recently had the chance to moderate a discussion of local leaders on this very topic, and the panelists’ comments underscored the self-reflection and examination of leadership mentioned in the Deloitte article. After the event, I circled back around and asked them to answer the following question: “What is one of the most important lessons you have learned in leading through the disruption of the last year and a half?”

Teree Caldwell Johnson, CEO, Oakridge Neighborhood: Navigating uncharted territory while facing unprecedented circumstances and the potential for a community spread on the Oakridge campus was a huge challenge. The life-and-death situations that many faced became political footballs in a game we were not poised to win. But the resolve of our neighborhood and staff, and the relevance and resilience of our organization and staff, took center stage. 

Kristi Knous, president, Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines: Building a strong culture is key and carries through times of disruption. The trust, common vision and understanding of purpose are essential for teams to be aligned, supportive and to function at their highest level when times get tough. Being intentional about building culture before, during and after disruption is critical to success.

Marty Martin, president, Drake University: Culture is everything. You build a strong, resilient, disciplined and mission-oriented team when times are good so that you can overcome them when things inevitably become more challenging. If you don’t have great culture going in, you are highly unlikely to find that magic in the midst of disruption.

JC Risewick, president and COO, Seneca Cos.: It is not a question of if adversity will come along, but when. When it does come, we tend to think we should have all the answers as leaders. But when a year like 2020 comes along, everything we thought we knew gets tossed out the window. It is more important to always be authentic than to always be right.

Jeff Russell, president and CEO, Delta Dental of Iowa: If you pour a cup of water into an empty 55-gallon drum, it will just splash a bit in the bottom. If the drum is filled all the way to the brim, that cup of water will splash everywhere. Our emotional “drum” fills up every day. It is important to know how to recharge and empty the water from our drum.

Tiffany Tauscheck, COO, Greater Des Moines Partnership: Flexibility is an art form. We can do anything, but we can’t do everything. Moving forward as a team with focus and commitment to the strategic objectives, while remaining nimble, is critical.

The Deloitte article concludes: “Armed with a renewed purpose, values, and mission, organizations and their leaders can set the conditions by which they rise to the occasion and rise out of the fog of pandemic.” We all have the opportunity to learn from the recent disruption, and I have been reflecting on what I can take away to become a stronger leader. How will you use this opportunity?

Best practices for leading through continued disruption and change

  • Focus on mission. “Don’t lose sight of the primary mission of your business,” says Risewick. “As leaders, we do have platforms to effect change, but we must continue to focus on those we directly serve. We won’t always be right, but if we’re always authentic we will understand that we don’t have all the answers, and that in fact the perfect solution rarely exists. Never underestimate the power of the ordinary impact you have on those around you.”
  • Engage everyone. “Constantly ask, ‘Have we authentically engaged all voices?’”  says Knous. She encourages leaders to consider if there are unintended consequences of the decisions at hand and to ask: “How will equity be advanced in this process/decision?”
  • Adapt, with grace. Everyone experiences change differently, says Russell, and adaptability matters as the world around us continues to change. “We don’t always know what change is happening in the lives of our co-workers, neighbors and friends,” he points out. “More than ever, it is important to have grace and patience with each other.”
  • Check in. “As a leader, it’s important to recognize others may be working through challenges unknown to you,” echoes Tauscheck. “We can’t expect team members to give 100% of themselves to our work,” she says, encouraging leaders to check in with themselves and others around them, daily if needed. “Ask them how much they have to give to the team and the work that day – what percent. Then ask them to give 100% of what they have to give to the team that day.”
  • Turn frustration and anger into action. It is natural for leaders to experience heated emotion during periods of disruption, especially when many challenges are so deeply personal. Caldwell says she became “inflamed when the public health crisis simultaneously created a hate crisis of unbelievable proportions,” but she harnessed that emotion to build coalitions and advance critical issues in our community. 
  • Inspire through your attitude. Inspiring your team to be their best through adversity ultimately takes a positive attitude. “Be generous in spirit,” Martin says. “Trust, empower and presume the best of others.”

Facebook Notice for EU! You need to login to view and post FB Comments!

fg brd 030122 300x250