general newsletter

Leading in the Age of COVID-19 – Sector Leadership Spot

May 11, 2020

By Brian J. G. LaChance, Esq., United Way Worldwide

When considering a topic important to our sector, times being what they are, only one came to mind: COVID-19. I’m not a medical professional nor a politician, so I can only approach the subject from a participant leadership perspective. As a member of United Way Worldwide’s executive leadership team I’ve seen leaders rise and be tested in the currents and wakes of crises—natural disasters, 911, school shootings, wide spread furloughs, recessions. I’ve heard tales of United Way’s rise and challenges in the face of war; not to mention the personal crises our communities face every day: lack of education, unstable families, financial strife, mental and physical health barriers, people tearing themselves apart, people tearing each other down.

My early teachings on leadership came from reading Lincoln on Leadership by Donald T. Phillips. Abe was the consummate leader. He was driven by mission and vision; understood how to motivate others; worked to build the best alliances; acted ethically and honestly. He was a master of persuasion but for him that was not enough. Lincoln credited his leadership success to “kind persuasion.” Today, the leadership quality I most value is kindness. You can’t find kindness on a resume. It’s hard to get credit for kindness in a year-end report or annual review. A handsome profit on the bottom line doesn’t show kindness. Hyperbole around one’s accomplishments or circumstances does not show kindness. Yet those sources are often the pathway to obtaining leadership positions. But if I am to follow someone, or lead others, I will look for kindness, in them and in myself. All the other attributes and competencies are table stakes.

In times of a crisis the need for kindness is critical. I’m not talking about being easy, loosening up on accountability, or simply being polite. I’m talking about a kindness that helps others overcome the barriers that may keep them from acting. Help staff and teammates face the fears, anxieties, grief, and difficulties that hit us all during times of crisis. I’ve felt at times, working in the human services sector, that we forget that our own colleagues experience the effects of a crisis the same way our clients or service recipients experience crisis. We must be as kind to those who serve as we are to those who are served. Faking it will never work. We should not to be taken in by insincerity, virtue signaling, and false empathy. No one is leading if no one is following—and there will be no followers if your teams are afraid to raise their heads and lean into the frightening work. I would bet, as it has been my experience, when individuals muster the strength to do so, they will align themselves with leaders and teams that show them kindness. In kindness is understanding, trust, and loyalty. In kindness I am not distracted by questionable motives. In kindness comes awareness of others and an openness to what they need. In kindness I stand a little prouder, I’m less reserved, more willing to take risks, more able to put others first while knowing I am in the good hands as well. In kindness comes compassion, in kindness we can prevail and sustain the momentum required to move from crisis to healing to a greater new reality.

Brian LaChance is the Chief of Staff at United Way Worldwide. He serves on the Board of Directors of the National Human Services Assembly and the National Assembly Business Services.