Association Leaders: Seeing Beyond the COVID-19 Crisis


As COVID-19 continues to spread around nationwide and globally, businesses are seeing major financial hits. Schooling is being moved to online platforms. And with actual number of cases – and death totals – rising, there are those who refuse to see silver linings in dark clouds.

The world’s in need of unified leadership now more than ever. That can start on an association level.

Many of you may be working from home, but as a leader, you’re called on to do a variety of things. Diffuse the situation. Put a glimmer of hope in the hearts of the downtrodden. Calm the masses.

To some, it may sound like a job suited for the greatest movie protagonist – but this, folks, is reality. Our leaders must see beyond the negativity. And when dealing with COVID-19, our leaders are seeing the ultimate test – a type of challenge that no one has had to deal with before.

As an association leader, the current task is simple: No results will happen overnight. Sure, we all want to right the wrongs expeditiously, but when dealing with COVID-19, life is a marathon and not a sprint.

That said, by staying the course – amid going through some necessary business changes – it’s important to note that an association can get back to regular rotation with proper planning, a lot of determination and the true value of patience. These types of catastrophes are never microwave processes – you can’t zap something really quick to make it ready.

“Association leaders begin creating change by developing an understanding of what needs to change in the way that they lead,” Joanne L Smikle wrote in a recent Association Universe article. “It may be time to shed approaches that worked in the past but hinder progress in this evolving business environment.

“That may mean changing the way that you communicate or the way that you relate to members and staff.”

Think back to past occurrences – 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita. There were setbacks then, but for many, those setbacks resulted in comebacks – all with the help of strong leadership.

This is a time where the best execs will take a proverbial step back to examine the current situation, then establish and work with a team that will ask the question, “How?”

How does this affect our business routine?

How will this play a role in our short-term growth? How will this play a role in our long-term growth?

How will we handle daily functioning?

How are we looking from a technological perspective?

And then, there this one: How will we adjust mentally?

All are critical questions, but all also are critical questions with logical answers. The best leaders will rotate the business models, tweak plans here and there, make the necessary adjustments. More importantly, the best leaders won’t crack under pressure in doing so.

According to Judith Samuelson by way of a Quartz article, “real change in business priorities will always face headwinds, but that’s where leadership comes in. And we all, in fact, have a role to play.” She went on to say that now is not the time to “sit down and feel hopeless,” because “there is too much work to do.”

In this time of isolation, leadership must mean being versatile. Communication must be at an all-time high. That means a conversation could go through email, Microsoft Teams, Zoom or any other technological avenue that may not be the norm – particularly for an older leader used to a specific way.

To add, transparency is key here. Peter McDermott, a senior client partner in Korn Ferry’s Global Corporate Affairs and Investor Relations practice, said in a recent article: “People are obviously nervous about the implications of the virus, and it is essential to keep them engaged, informed, and safe.” The best leaders will show that while there’s a lot to deal with, the support for the rest of the staff will always be there.

Trust may be one of the most undervalued characteristics. The best leaders will deliver a laser focus to their staff members to ensure confidence in a rebuild or regrowth – and confidence in simply weathering the storm.
In the worst times, leaders are viewed as superheroes on some levels. Is it fair? Perhaps not. Is it optics? Definitely. What’s great is that the best leaders have those qualities and can become those superheroes en route to getting back to how things once were with your association.

Download MultiView’s free ebook Racing Toward a New Normal to learn more about how the way we work today will have a lasting impact on the way associations operate in the future.

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