Insight is our new monthly feature. Every month we’ll bring you a thought piece from one of our members. This month, we’re pleased to present to you Georgie Harman’s thoughts on leadership during times of crisis.
Is it just me, or is it impossible to remember life and work without COVID-19? Perhaps it’s because I write this from lockdown in Melbourne, living in an endless Zoom meeting interspersed with jigsaws.
I recall first hearing about a virus in late 2019 and blithely swatting it away as something that would follow the path of SARS and MERS. I went on leave in February with a growing unease.
Driving back to Melbourne, being briefed by my team about our services and business continuity plan, the reality and responsibility hit me. I was both terrified and filled with adrenaline. What would this mean for people, communities and organisations already doing it tough, so soon after the summer bushfires? How would the organisation I work for and our whole sector move up another gear when we were already in fifth?
Here’s what I’ve learned about leadership through a crisis.
It’s OK not to have all the answers, but you need to be direct with your Board, team, stakeholders and funders about what you need to do in the face of instability and uncertainty. Fear flourishes in a vacuum but candid and compassionate communication can reassure.
I’ve learned we can’t keep working the way we used to, and that no organisation is immune from the pandemic’s effects. This is a new frontier, not a reset of the past. For the coming years, or until we have a vaccine, the world will look different.
Values become even more important when faced with immediate and long-term prioritisation and cost containment decisions.
Early on I landed on three principles: people’s health, wellbeing and safety; a singular purpose to support the community through the pandemic and its aftershocks; and preparing Beyond Blue to weather the challenges now and the tough years ahead.
I’ve cast off my old-fashioned ideas about working from home and productivity, and I’m reminded every day that our team is extraordinary.
The community sector faces challenging times ahead with the economic outlook, wavering confidence and less discretionary household income to meet our fundraising needs, and record current and projected demand for services and supports.
But as is the case in any challenging time, there is also opportunity. Our sector has a ‘demonstration of relevance’ opening that’s second to none. The greatest impediment to change is the gravitational pull of the status quo. More of the same will not do.
I’ve concluded that what our futures look like depends so a large degree on what we do now. We must undertake courageous examinations of what our organisations exist to do, our value, capacity and culture. We will need to collaborate like never before, challenge assumptions, develop a high tolerance for ambiguity, empower our teams.
I’ve been reminded every day of how lucky I am to have a home, a job with purpose, people who love me, and how it is these things that help people to stay alive and live contributing lives. The structural and people-led system reform we all want to see for those we work for have to be broader than the health and clinical domains.
2020 continues to challenge all of us, and our organisations, in different ways.
But one common thread binds us together: our communities will need us more than ever and it’s how we lead, advocate, give hope and behave together that matters.
CEO, Beyond Blue