How to Lead in the Crucible of Crisis

I’m live blogging at the Christian Leadership Alliance (CLA) Outcomes Conference in Dallas, TX.  The theme of the Outcomes Conference is “Perspectives.” Perspectives are about where we as Christian leaders and organizations have journeyed together these past 40 years, where we are today, and God’s plan for the future.

Michael Lindsay, president of Gordon College, conducted the largest in-person studies on leadership (550 interviews), including a decade of research. Interviews included former presidents Bush, Carter and 80 cabinets in the White House. Michael wanted to address the question: “How do these leaders manage in times of crisis?

Leading With Your Life

  • You are the job.
  • Leaders function within two roles: You can be the savior of the crisis and scapegoat.
  • Heifitz and Linsky: Lifecycle of a crisis
    • Preparation Phase
    • Emergency Phase
    • Adaptive Phase
  • We are always in the preparation phase for something.

Emergency Phase

“To be great is to be misunderstood.” – Ralph Waldo

  • As a leader, you can never disclose every information. This is the conundrum of leadership.
  • Case in Point: Nannerl Keohane, president at Wellesley College
  • A leader’s best work never sees the light of day. The iceberg effect of leadership. What you and I see are the visible elements of leadership. Most leaders spend their time one or two things. They are either working on very good things or they spend time preventing bad things from becoming worse. Most leaders spend time below the surface.

Emergency Phase: From Student to Practitioner

Gordon College for the last 100 years had a convent to live by. For 70 years of the clauses of covenant that sex should be reserved for marriage between men and women. We have had students who grappled with same-sex identification, lesbians, and gays. The expectation was that if you’re unmarried you’re going to be celibate. That was one of the community covenants.

Hobby Lobby case comes in and the LGBT community tries to change the landscape. A few years ago, a negative article appeared in the Boston Globe which was followed by a social media firestorm. Every single student who applies abides by the statement. In a matter of three weeks, we had six negative articles appeared in the media. This was one of the greatest attacks we experienced from the last 100 years.

Here’s a few headlines from the media from The Boston Globe.

  • “Lynn public’s school sever relationship with Gordon College”
  • “Gordon College leader joins request for exemption to hiring rule.”

Decision Making in the Crucible of Crisis

  • The pressure to decide (Robert Rubin, CEO of Goldman Sachs)
  • You never have complete information (Gerard Arpey)
  • Escalate or Deescalate? You might have to escalate in one constituent and deescalate in one constituent.
    • The importance of networks (Andy Crouch, David Skeel, Phil Ryken (President of Wheaton College), Ray Hammond)

Leading With Your Life

  • Personal vulnerability (townhall meetings)
  • Families feel the pressure
  • Mobilizing support ($1 million) – crisis requires expensive advisers
  • Visibility and access for students

Crisis Communications

  • community@gordon.edu
  • Very long days, sleepless nights
  • Over 1,000 letters and emails
  • Hundreds of phone calls
  • How to maintain regular duties
  • The need for systems and emergency personnel

Adaptive Phase

  • Christianity and culture
    • Sin
    • Mainstream cultural viewpoints
    • Threats (public official)
    • Accreditation

God in the Storm

  • Psalms
  • Praise music and prayer
  • Crisis does not develop character; it only reveals it
  • The necessity of friends
  • The important of mutual support