David Bull

Mar 25, 2020, 10:00 AM

Leadership in the time of corona – 5 things to think about

As a charity CEO for 32 years, I have been through crises before. Here are five things to think about.

One: Think about those you work with and for. How can you help them? Issues of mental and physical health, loneliness, poverty, vulnerability, separation and displacement are all relevant.

Can you advocate on their behalf, amplify their voice, lobby and build alliances to advance their concerns? How can you adapt your services to help them? We are facing a truly global pandemic, the impact of which will be felt directly across the world – and most severely by the most vulnerable.

Two: Think about your people, stretched by the demands of your work, but also having their own personal worries. Be as open as possible about your thinking, offering reassurance where you can. Help them work flexibly. Trust them to make the best decisions. Ensure that they have what they need – from hand sanitiser to protective gear to the technology to keep in touch. Be there to listen to their worries. Make sure teams can maintain regular contact. Invest in the technology and support for video conferencing and team collaboration.

When an emergency strikes, people are at their very best. Many of the normal ways of working can be set aside. Minimise the bureaucracy, while ensuring you have enough oversight to keep everyone safe. Be open to people’s ideas. Look after each other. Trust, transparency, engagement and communication are key.

Three: Think about supporters and donors. Let them know what you are doing and thinking and how valued they are. Get their input. In times of crisis, people really want to help. Even if they can’t get out and volunteer, most can still join in your campaigns, sign petitions, promote your work on social media and (if not too badly hit financially) make donations. People would like something to feel positive about, a means to make a difference and engage with others, even if only virtually. You can provide that opportunity for your supporters.

I know many charities are worried that the crisis will hit their income. Is there a story you can tell to mobilise people to give and to see some light in the darkness.

Four: Think about yourself and your senior team. This is a big responsibility. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice. Make sure you have someone you can talk to. Consider working with a coach or mentor – an independent confidant who can help you think through your personal and organisational concerns. Coaching and mentoring can be done by video so there is nothing to prevent you taking this opportunity.

Five: Think of the future. The decisions you make now will have long-term impacts. How can you ensure you are in the strongest position when the crisis is over? In the wake of the financial crash in 2008/9, some charities chose to downsize. Others, including mine, did the opposite. We maintained our fundraising investment to ensure we could be in the strongest long-term position. What you decide must be right for you – do you have reserves, will your supporters stand by you, can you shift your fundraising to email and online? Think strategically as well as focusing on the immediate challenges.

If I or others from Action Planning can help, let us know.

Look after yourselves, each other, your users and those around you. Charities of all kinds are a vital part of the response to the pandemic – you are needed and important.

Click here to read the full version in David’s blog

David Bull is a Management Consultant and Mentor with 32 years as an international charity CEO. He has led four international organisations, including Amnesty International UK and Unicef UK. Now a trustee of two international NGOs, he is undertaking a variety of consultancy assignments, including mentoring CEOs, advising philanthropists, public speaking and identifying international development programmes for a major new global initiative.