Covid and Culture Creation: Crisis as a School for Social Excellence

During the last 18 months some of my most moving conversations have been with people in the medical community.  Covid has brought organization crisis.  With passion medical folks have described being pushed beyond expectation.

In a recent case I was asked to do a session with a very large department in a major medical system.  Not only have members been required to give all, the system, faced with financial difficulties, cut their salaries.  The response was predictable rage.  The culture of the department began to splinter.  In the chaos the chair found himself saturated with insurmountable problems.  He told me of his vision and indicated that he longed for the day when the crisis would end, and he could again pursue his aspirations.

I was asked if I could do in a one-hour session to help the people cope.  I said yes, but I was not interested in helping them cope.

Instead of lecturing, I gave them some exercises.  In the first two minutes, we recognized the natural splintering that occurs in crisis.  We also recognized that in crisis we have our greatest opportunity to create the culture we want.  To do so, the people must move from problem-solving to purpose-finding and problem-solving.

The first exercise required the participants to contemplate and describe social excellence.  The second required them to individually choose the three elements of social excellence that they wanted to see in their culture.  Their lists represented purpose.

In the next exercise we reviewed the goals of the department chair, and the participants were asked to each write one sentence of constructive feedback.  Before sharing their feedback, they had to do the next exercise.  They had to each examine the three elements they wanted in their culture and identify three positive practices that they would personally introduce.  Each practice had to be new, owned, and implementable without asking permission.  The final exercise was to send their sentence of constructive feedback and their three practices to the chair.

The hour ended.  I started receiving emails.  All expressed gratitude.  The most important came from the chair.  It contained this statement.  “Covid, Schmovid, I am going to get moving in the direction I want.”

In crisis leaders naturally go into a problem-solving mentality.  They have no choice.  It the process they become reactive problem solvers.  Their leadership devolves into management.  The alternative is to clarify the highest purpose and communicate it by having the purpose govern every decision.  Doing so turns the crisis into a school for creating social excellence.  When a leader has a higher purpose, the crisis becomes a platform for transformation.  Soon the purpose drives all the decisions of all the participants.  I am grateful for the statement, “Covid, Schmovid, I am going to get moving in the direction I want.”


  • How does crisis put us into a reactive, problem-solving mode?
  • How does having and holding a higher purpose alter problem solving?
  • In crisis, what is the difference between management and leadership?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?