As we have discussed crisis leadership over the past several days, most of the content we have examined considers the crisis experienced to be a fairly short-term event. Types of crisis that may fall within the "short-term" category include natural disasters, such as weather-related events, bomb threats, medical emergencies, etc. Typically these crises play out over a short period of time (minutes to hours) and then are complete. Other types of crises, however, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic, can last for weeks to months (and God help us all if we have to add the word "year"). So, what does it look like the day after a long-term crisis announcement or event? This is where school leaders must reconnect with their vision in order to move forward in a strategic, intentional way.
The what versus the how
In yesterday's post, we discussed Michael Hyatt's advice in his book, The Vision-Driven Leader. In crisis, and even in general leadership practice, it can be tempting to focus on the how before the what. We want to jump into go mode, with little regard for our vision. Vision sounds too fluffy and ambiguous for a lot of leaders in a time of crisis. What we learn, however, is that the distinction between (and interaction among) mission, vision, strategy, and values is where the solution lives. This intersection is where your crisis management plan comes into being. The vision cannot be overlooked.
Let's take a brief look at what we mean when we talk about mission, vision, strategy and values:
Mission - who you are
Vision - where you're going
Strategy - how you're going to get there
Values - the kind of person/people you are along the journey
As we can see, without a clear vision of where we are going, and a connection to who we are at our core, our strategy to get there can only be murky at best. When we take a moment to reconnect with the what and the why, however, the how becomes more clear. To begin with the end in mind, as Grant Wiggins would tell us in the realm of education, is to ensure that we don't lose sight of our destination along the way. Thus, in the day that follows a long-term crisis, it is critical to start with the end in mind and take strategic steps forward.
How to start with the end in mind in a crisis
Leaders who do vision work know that approximately 40-60% of his or her time as a leader should be spent focusing on the company's vision. Whether the leader is talking about the vision, connecting to the vision, or executing the vision, if a large percentage of his or her time is not spent in this vein, the company cannot function at maximum capacity and may struggle to hold true to its mission. Thus, although it feels unproductive, the day that follows the announcement of a long-term crisis, such as the global COVID-19 pandemic, the leader MUST sit down and clarify the company's vision. Then, he or she must work backwards to devise a strategic game plan to move forward.
Let's look at an example:
As the COVID-19 pandemic became global last March, school leaders (many of whom were on spring break and traveling at the time) were asked to rapidly devise a plan for the eminent closure of schools. In-person learning institutions were asked to do the very thing that they tend to be vehemently against - create an online school. On top of that, many schools were only given a matter of days to make it happen. You can imagine that school leaders across the nation jumped into action - many immediately crafting a plan for what it looked like to learn online.
When you don't take a minute to step back and look at your school's vision, however, there are important steps here that can be missed. For example, while it is good and well to consider what platform you will utilize for online learning (Google Classroom or Schoology? Zoom or Google Meet?) and what type of security measures are needed to ensure that the online learning environment is safe, what about the school's vision? For example, our school's vision reads, every child, every day, prepared to meet life's challenges. By solely focusing on just the logistics of our learning platform, we would be missing out on the most important aspect of our vision. How were we going to serve our kids? How would their diverse and vast needs be met through our new distance learning platform? Unfortunately, in crisis mode, we jumped into the how and, in many ways, disregarded our what.
The difference between crisis schooling last spring and distance learning this fall is obvious. This summer, in anticipation for the continuation of online learning as COVID rates continued to soar, we went back to our vision. We revisited our values, and came up with a better strategy to connect kids to teachers, provide on-site and distance learning services for our special needs students, and developed pro-active counseling services for students with high anxiety and social stress. The result? Our parent community and student community are proud of the new learning opportunities we have provided and supportive of the hard work of our teachers as they strive to build relationships and provide a safe place for students to learn online. Although we were supported in the spring, we were applauded for our efforts this fall.
Once school leaders take a moment to reconnect with and clarify the vision, the how almost naturally falls into place. The strategy organically unfolds. Let's take a look at how (no pun intended).
How strategy unfolds
Once a vision is clarified, the process of goal writing becomes easier to consider. For example, using the vision mentioned above, every child, every day, prepared to meet life's challenges, we drew the following conclusions:
In short, we had a lot to consider when meeting the needs of a diverse audience. Once we identified "every child," however, it became easy to create goals. For example:
Goals are good and well, but there is still one last question. How do we ensure that, as leaders and teachers under personal and professional stress during a long-term crisis, that our goals become a reality? This is where the relationship between strategy and productivity comes into play. These considerations will propel us forward in the days that follow a long-term crisis, giving us the energy and momentum to sustain our effectiveness as humans and, consequently, as a school. First, let's recap the day after the announcement of a long-term crisis:
1. Revisit the vision. Clarify the vision. Reconnect with your your what and your why.
2. Break down the vision. What aspects of the vision need to be taken into consideration as you consider and create both short and long-term plans?
3. Create goals. This may or may not happen on the first day following the announcement of a long-term crisis, but this should be your logical next step. Based on the breakdown of your school's personal vision, what goals do you need to create in order to successfully navigate the long-term crisis that looms ahead?
Tomorrow we will discuss what happens in the days following the announcement of a long-term crisis. We clarified our vision. We broke it into chunks. We have some goals. How do we now create the energy we need to sustain progress towards these goals in the long, uncertain days ahead? How do strategy and productivity interact?
Linger a Little Longer:
1. Think about the last time you were faced with a long-term challenge or crisis. What was your first go-to response? Did you jump into the what and the why, or immediately into the how? How did this impact your navigation of the challenge or crisis?
2. Summarize the value of starting with your vision in the time of a crisis. What is the benefit? Why are we so adamant to start with the how?
3. As you look at your current vision, describe a time during a challenge or a crisis when something was overlooked as a result of not starting with the what.