Change Can Cause Crisis, But It Doesn’t Have To
Crises can cause change. For sure, they cause disruption, but they don’t always produce change.
Change can cause crisis. For sure, change can cause disruption, but it doesn’t have to create crisis.
Crisis management and change management are often found in the same moment, but they are different skills, and they demand different responses of us as leaders, as influencers, as co-creators of our environments.
First, let’s define a couple of terms.
Back-to-school. A season in Iowa (and many parts of the world) that usually falls between “State Fair” and “Football”. Generally characterized with an even balance of enthusiasm, shopping for clothes and supplies, butterflies-in-the-stomach for those who are new to the school or the classroom (kindergarteners, new teachers, 9th graders), eager impatience for those who are ready to get back to the groove (parents of elementary schoolers, parents of middle schoolers, parents of teenagers, academic-minded kids, and life-long teachers), last-minute trips to doctors, dentists, orthodontists, optometrists, and last-minute haircuts.Derecho. Many of us hadn’t heard of one before this past week. I think the “technical” definition must be “a cornfield and grain-bin flattening storm thrown at the Midwest in 2020 during a time when we’ve become weary of all the stuff that 2020 has thrown us, that takes out trees, campers, and electricity, and that brings out the caring neighbor in everyone impacted .”Change. When something ends and something new begins.Crisis. A period of intense trouble, such as extreme difficulty or threat of harm.
By all definitions, the August 10, 2020 Derecho was a crisis. Unexpected, intense, extreme winds and rains that destroyed buildings, broke and uprooted trees, and tossed vehicles into the air as if they were nothing. With little to no warning, many Iowans experienced power lines down, internet and other services interrupted, and extensive property damage.
What do people need in a crisis?
From leaders we need:
- Information. Tell us what’s going on. Keep us informed. Even if the news isn’t good, tell us what you know. Advance information allows us to seek safety. Real-time information allows us to hold on through the storm. Regular information during the clean-up allows us to know how long we’ll need to keep our groceries in cousin Meryl’s freezer.
- Adjustments. Things that we were planning to do when there was a literal roof over our heads and power in the power lines aren’t going to be the same if we can now see the sky from our living rooms and can’t turn on the oven. Our leaders have to be willing to adjust the plans with the reality of the situation, without undue hassle.
- Compassion. There’s a fair chance that a whole lot of those impacted by this recent storm were already at their wits’ end due to all the other drama 2020 has produced. We need a little grace from our leaders to let us cry. Let us have a moment to grieve the losses, stamp our feet in frustration about the havoc, and pull ourselves back together before asking us to show you our game faces.
And if you’re not in a leadership position, but right now, you want to co-create an environment of healing and recovery, from you, we need:
- A chainsaw. Okay, maybe it’s not a literal chainsaw today, but the day after the storm, hundreds of Iowans took to their neighborhoods with chainsaws and wheelbarrows and tools to help cut up, clean up, and pick up debris. Thanks, neighbors. No fuss, no handwringing, just a helping hand. That’s why I love Iowa so much.
- Grace. You’ve probably been through hard stuff too, so thanks for giving your neighbor a little grace as they wrestle with the damage they’ve experienced. You’re probably also counting your blessings about the people who are okay and the impermanence of the damage, and saying “grace” over a meal together would do a lot to bring us together in gratitude.
By most definitions, the back-to-school season is a change. Lazy days of summer come to an end, and the rigor of the school year and all the frenetic activity of extracurriculars and sports and concerts etc. begins. Mornings of sleeping in are replaced by pre-dawn alarms and early morning bus rides. Late night binge watching gives way to late night study sessions with friends. These changes happen every year. They are often temporary; we adjust to the pace of the school year, and then relax back into summer next May.
For some, the changes are more permanent – kindergarteners begin a 12-year run at this, which they didn’t have during any of the preceding 5 years. First-year teachers begin a life-long love affair with this heartbreaking, back-breaking, amazingly rewarding act of service. College students leave home for their first year of their new life outside the family.
Change is hard. And for most of us, even temporary changes are difficult.
Right now, with the threat of COVID-19 heavy in the air, the change to the school year seems even more threatening, more daunting, for parents and caregivers, teachers, administrators, and students.
During this particular time of change, what do we need?
It turns out, we still need many of the same things from our leaders, with some specific differences:
- Information. Tell us what you’re planning and how you reached the conclusions you’ve reached. Tell us not just what you’ve decided, but how you came to those decisions so that we can come alongside you. Advance information, before you know everything for sure, but when you know something, helps us feel like we’re not completely in the dark. Clear information channels during the transition help us know you’re listening to us and have a plan to hear those you’re leading. Regular, transparent communication lets us know you are responding to changing conditions as best you can.
- Adjustments. “Plans are meaningless, but planning is everything” is the old adage from Ike, and what we need from our leaders is a commitment to the effort of planning, and a willingness to adjust as reality unfolds. Just because it was the original plan doesn’t mean it makes sense in the given circumstances, and we want to know that our leaders are versed enough in planning that they can adjust that plan as appropriate.
- Compassion. During a normal year, kids take a few weeks to get used to a new routine (and so do teachers, and so do parents!), and this applies to any change! Being patient with those who are still trying to figure it out will go a long way toward increasing engagement. Giving people a moment to catch their breath when things feel like they’re going to fast, an opportunity to ask for help when they’re drowning under the volume of the changes, encouragement when they’re doing their best to learn new skills or new approaches – these are all ways you lead, by personally encouraging the people going through this change with you.
And if you’re not in a leadership position, but right now, you want to co-create an uplifting environment through this period of transition, from you, we need:
- A helping hand – Help each other. Co-create greatness. If you’ve got more than you need, share. Turns out, sharing with someone else today may make them more inclined to share with you tomorrow.
- Grace – Avoid any temptation to judge who’s making this transition better than anyone else or worse than anyone else. Avoid criticizing someone’s choices or approach – you haven’t walked in their shoes; you don’t know their mind.
Crisis doesn’t always cause change. Sometimes the crisis causes us to change our lives fundamentally, but sometimes it blows over like a summer storm. Good leadership and good neighbors can help us make sure that a crisis doesn’t cause unnecessary change or unnecessary harm.
Likewise, change doesn’t always have to cause crisis. Sometimes change is so hard that it wrecks us on the inside for a bit, and makes us forget the good neighbors we are, but sometimes we can just take it in stride like it’s just another school year. Good leadership and good neighbors can help us make sure that a change doesn’t cause unnecessary crisis.
Good leaders, we need you. Good neighbors, we need you too! It turns out that we get through change and crisis the same way: together.