Crisis and Leadership

Crisis and Leadership

“The words hope for the best and plan for the worst have never resonated with me so much as we have worked to navigate our international company through the ever-changing realities of COVID-19.”

Like many of you, I have been reading nonstop about COVID-19 specifically and about pandemics in general–trying to glean any wisdom I can from experts in the field and from historical events. I was struck by the comments of Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who said “When you combine a pandemic with uncertainty, you get a powerful formula for fear and even panic. And that is why those in leadership positions need to step to the forefront and be a positive presence for those they lead.” We all know that when adversity strikes, people are looking for direction and guidance, and that’s why leaders must exert their influence to shape the best way forward.

During this time, I have found myself reflecting on the quote by James Lane Allen, a 19th century novelist, “Adversity does not build character—it reveals it.” The way a leader behaves and acts during a crisis will uncover their ability to lead-period. It will uncover their willingness to take prudent and yet decisive action during a time when there is no manual. It will uncover their ability to calm the waters when others around them are panicking. It will demonstrate their ability to learn and rapidly course correct as circumstances indicate. It will show to others their innate character. Adversity shines a light on talent. Individuals in the organization who may have gone unnoticed suddenly find themselves in the spotlight with an opportunity to apply their skills to emerging problems. They rise to the occasion.

In a 2017 article in Forbes Magazine I found a set of recommendations for leadership in crisis that stuck with me and I have relied on over the past month:

Don’t Allow Your Emotions To Get The Best Of You
In times of crisis, leaders invariably find themselves in the midst of a stressful and tense atmosphere. Now is the time to take charge of your thoughts, emotions and the way you deal with problems. Anything else can be interpreted by employees as a loss of control.

Remain Positive To Remain Productive
Positivity is the fuel for productivity. When the chips are down, you can choose to either get caught up in all the negativity surrounding you, or you can choose to do something positive about it. There’s always a choice.

Manage Expectations
When crisis strikes, people want to get over it as quickly as possible. As a leader, this is the time to face the situation and learn the magnitude of the problem. Let your staff know it might be a while until the storm passes and prepare them for the long and hard battle ahead.

Exercise Your Fearlessness
Fear is contagious and so is courage. If your demeanor reeks of fear, your employees will feel a greater sense of fear. You cannot afford to project yourself as someone who is not sure of the ability to lead or is short on confidence. Demonstrate the kind of courage that makes people want to follow you.

Never Waste A Good Crisis
Churchill’s quote is imminent. In the world of business, we are often guilty of not challenging the norm; we are instead satisfied with following procedure and tradition. It takes insight and not a little courage to question your leaders as to why are things done the way that they are? However, in times of crisis there seems to be more latitude to do so – management in fact is actively seeking input it seems. Leading companies nowadays recognize this and cultivate a more open, questioning climate within the office at all times because a degree of continual review is healthy within a business.

Leadership and Learning Are a Way of Life

Leadership and Learning Are a Way of Life

As leaders, we all know that leadership is not simply a job title. It is not a nine-to-five job that you turn on when you walk into the office and turn off when you leave.  Leadership is a way of life that requires constant learning, nurturing, and stretching. It is how you show up in the world, every day. It is a discipline that requires time and practice.

As a leader of a large, growing, multi-company organization, I am driven by the need for continual learning and this takes time and discipline.  I intentionally spend time each day reading, writing, considering, and ultimately, translating the learning into action.  Learning sets the tone for the organization. It enhances by ability to be agile in my responses to the ever-changing marketplace and business climate. Reading allows me the space to challenge my own assumptions and bring more knowledge to the table in discussions with my board and team. I share articles that interest me with my leadership team and am always intrigued by the responses I receive.  Weekly, I share articles of interest with all 4500 staff of The Fedcap Group—and find the responses equally as inspiring.

In addition, I spend as much time as I can with leaders in diverse and disparate industries inviting them to share their perspectives with me and their approaches to the things that are essential to smooth organizational development and management: structure, innovation, corporate health, and stakeholder and staff engagement. I always walk away with new insight.

This carries over to the kind of employee I look for to bring into our organization.  When interviewing potential new employees, I always ask the question “Tell me something you’ve learned recently.’   I want to understand if the person I am talking to has the intellectual curiosity required in today’s environment, required to succeed in our company.

For me, leading and learning do not feel like “work.” They are inextricably connected, and I am continuously energized and stimulated by what I learn.

Leading from the Front: Guest Blog from Ret. Colonel David Sutherland

Leading from the Front: Guest Blog from Ret. Colonel David Sutherland

Memorial Day is just a week away, and while we pause to remember and honor those who have fallen in service to our country, I am also moved by lessons learned from military leaders who have faced the most difficult and high-stakes challenges and crises imaginable.

Ret. Colonel David Sutherland, Chairman of Dixon Center for Military and Veterans Services, an organization that is an essential part of The Fedcap Group, is a leader whose wisdom and insight I value.  

I thank Col. Sutherland for his great insight.  And, as always, I welcome your thoughts.


Ret. Colonel David Sutherland

Lead from the Front is a philosophy for team-building based on years of real-life experience in the field, culminating in Iraq.   One of the four traits of a leader is knowledge.

Say knowledge and people think “intelligence” and “information.”  True, it does mean that, but the main deliverable of knowledge is structure.  Think about it.  What do people really want to know before they begin a task and while they are completing it?

    1. What am I doing?
    2. Why is it important that I do it? 
    3. How is this going to make a difference?
    4. How well am I doing it?

It’s such a simple concept, yet you’d be surprised how many people don’t operate under these principles.  And when leaders do answer these questions?  People will follow them places you couldn’t imagine.

Take Ted, one of the Troop Commanders who served with me in Iraq.  During the initial part of our 15-month deployment, his Troop First Sergeant was killed in action.  The Troops’ next First Sergeant was shot and wounded in action.  Ted himself was engaged directly or within proximity of his convoy by as many as 70 IEDs.  And yet his troop accomplished more than I ever thought possible.  How?  Ted explained every task and didn’t overreact.  His troops understood the job that needed to get done and why they were doing it.  He put structure where it was needed and ensured standards were understood.

General George Patton once said, “Don’t tell someone how to do it, tell them what to do and they’ll surprise you.”

Follow that advice and you’ll have workers who are both competent and confident.



Last week, we held a Leadership Forum for staff from across our growing family of agencies. In it, we started planning for 2025, explored trends in the nonprofit marketplace, in human resources, in technology, in government funding and we identified strategic directions.  We then identified the DNA of leaders required to effectively advance us toward our goals.

Included in that DNA are vision and the ability to operationalize that vision, integrity, influence, analytical skills, compassion, resilience, and the skills required to drive change.  AND in addition, we discussed two traits absolutely critical to leadership: the willingness to stand for something and the ability to take bold, yet calculated, risks.

I’ve heard many leaders pay lip service to the idea that they want their “followers” to disagree with them. However, what I’ve discovered in my career is that while many say that this is what they want, in actuality, they want to have the people they lead follow them by operationalizing their vision.   There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but frankly, I prefer people who really will disagree with me.  I want to be shown a better way, invited to a wider vision.  I want to engage in discussions where staff share perspectives different from my own. I want to work with people who have different backgrounds, experiences, and expertise. I want the people I work with to be here because they stand for something and because they will be fierce in standing for what they believe.

It is in this diversity of perspectives that we are truly better together.

Besides leaders who stand for what they believe, we also need leaders who are able to see the ways the environment is rapidly changing and are able to call forward the next “thing.”  We need people who can understand the environment enough to take smart, planned risks— understanding that without some degree of risk there is no future.  We need leaders who are students of their profession, who never stop learning and as such, the risks they take are based on knowledge, wisdom and instinct.

What do you stand for? What risks do you take in your organization? What is the DNA of your leadership?