Crisis and Opportunity

How an organization responds in a crisis is a function of the culture created prior to the crisis.  In recent weeks I have been receiving reports from a variety of people who have long sought to be positive leaders and now, during the pandemic, are harvesting their rewards.  Here is one illustration.

When the pandemic hit, a major university went through the same transformation as so many others.  It made a dramatic shift to on-line work. The IT team responded to the challenge with innovation, collaboration and grace.  In the process, they attracted the entire university community into a cohesive change effort.  In a matter of days, there was a significant expansion in remote and secure access to the internal systems and specialized software. They gathered and effectively distributed equipment as physical locations closed.  They partnered so as to get training where it was needed.  They shifted to a virtual help desk over a weekend without any interruption in service to the campus. They did all of this while improving their satisfaction rating, as measured by a post-service survey, to over 97%.

The woman in charge of IT is a person I know.  When I heard the report, I asked her why things went so well.  She told me that when she was at the University of Michigan, she began studying and practicing positive leadership.  Four years ago, she became the CIO at a different university.  She has worked tirelessly to create a positive and empowering culture by listening and responding to requests for more flexibility and autonomy. She co-created leadership training that more than 300 IT and marketing team members attended. She introduced time and procedures for open exploration and learning.

Over the four years, she put emphasis on purpose, vision, and change.  They had already moved the primary learning platforms to modern cloud solutions that made the transition much easier.  They already had flexible work guidelines that encouraged each team member to work with their manager, team and customers to identify how they could provide seamless service when they worked remotely.  The teams had practiced being innovative and thinking outside of the box in their weekly “Wonderful Wednesday” meetings. Many of the ideas that they implemented in response to the pandemic crises came from the research and exploration individuals had already been doing.

Because the team had practiced, they were prepared and were able to respond to requests quickly and creatively. Instead of scrambling to figure out how they would be able to do their job from home, the IT team members were able to focus on helping the rest of campus move to the new paradigm.  Now my friend has been invited to train all the senior leaders on campus in positive leadership.

You respond, “But we did not have the advantage of creating a positive culture ahead of time, this does not help.”  Wrong.  It is during crisis that cultures are most fluid and can be most easily changed.  This is your time of extraordinary opportunity.  You cannot take advantage of this opportunity by doing today, what you did yesterday.


  • What happens to most organizations in crisis?
  • Why is crisis a time that illustrates the value of positive leadership?
  • Why did this particular organization prosper, and what does it mean for you?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?


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