In crisis, conventional administrative theory often breaks down. In times of great uncertainty it becomes impossible to manage an organization from the top. Decisions have to be made close to the action, by empowered people without normal hierarchical controls. So the organization is not run by a senior authority figure. It is run by the culture of the organization. Suddenly, the quality of the culture matters a great deal.
In the course of the pandemic, I have read many messages sent out by CEOs. A few are conventional and disappointing. Most are purpose and value based and I find them inspiring. Recently I read a message that really caught my attention. It was written by Kevin Hegarty who is the Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at the University of Michigan. He was writing to the many people who work under him.
Kevin is not a conventional finance guy. For several years he has worked to create a positive culture. Now, it the middle of this pandemic, he sends a letter to his people. As you read the essence of his message, please ask yourself what is unique about the statement.
While the university has carefully thought out plans for emergencies, no one has a playbook for how to effectively manage people or operations during this kind of situation. Yet, in many ways, I believe that our focus on positive leadership over the last three years has equipped us with the very tools we need right now to get through this together.
The work that you have done to connect your teams to a sense of purpose and the critical role they play at the university can be brought to bear in times like these. Our teams are the backbone of this university and their work is essential to get our community through this situation. The normalcy of knowing that their paycheck will arrive on time, the lights will come on in a clean room, and the bus will arrive on time will help everyone in our community feel more secure. Nowhere is this more important than for the men and women in our hospitals and health centers who are serving on the frontlines, working tirelessly to prepare for and provide care to patients affected by the virus. I am so grateful that you and your teams of dedicated professionals are supporting them.
In addition, the trust we have built by establishing meaningful relationships with our team members will serve us now more than ever. I encourage you to draw on this mutual trust when managing schedules, remote work plans, or supporting team members through family care challenges. We must all employ equal measures of creativity, flexibility and compassion to find solutions that both support our employees and ensure our critical work gets done.
Despite the uncertainty of what lies ahead, our collective commitment to kindness and to creating a work environment where everyone knows that they matter greatly, both professionally and personally, will guide us through. Now is the time to flex your positive leadership muscle and trust your teams. Enlist them in finding solutions and give them an opportunity to shine.
Please remember to take care of yourself and support each other. Leading in times of crisis is tough, but none of us has to do it alone. We have built a wonderful leadership family over the last few years – let’s help each other, share ideas and offer support. I am so proud of the work we have done together and I have faith that each of you will use what we’ve learned to support your teams and the university through the challenging days ahead.
- How do you think his people will respond to Kevin’s message?
- In your opinion, what is the single most important sentence?
- As a leader in a crisis, what does Kevin have that most do not?
- How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?