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Leading a New Normal or Managing Collapse? by Dr. Nathan Baxter

Are You Leading to a New Normal or Managing Nonprofit Collapse?

One of the CEOs I coach leads an organization with almost five hundred employees. In a video call with him this week, he began by explaining how he spent two days calculating when the organization would ran out of cash. After ten minutes of explaining the process, he finally revealed the bottom line.

They had only seven weeks of cash remaining.

As kindly as I knew how, I asked him why we were having this conversation. I knew he had an extremely capable CFO with smart people on her team who probably already did the math—in minutes. He had no answer. Not a good one anyway.

“Pull your head out of the management weeds,” I interjected. “Get back up the mountain and tell me what you see from that perspective.”

I knew enough about the organization and their leaders s to know they will get through this, and make the difficult decisions that would be necessary. But what they needed most—and what your organization needs—is leadership. As a leader, you alone are responsible for the horizon view.

Vision is not a luxury in times of crisis—vision is your lifeline.

Leaders have this ability

This will end soon. When is “soon”? In 21st-century time, it’s sooner than you can imagine. The real question is: will you be ready?

100% of my executive clients have never been through a global pandemic before. Many, including me, navigated through 9/11, but this is different. And there’s no roadmap. There are no “best practices” because they’re still being written.

But do you really want a map? You have something even more valuable: leadership instincts.

When there are no rules, you can create the rules. Actually, you must create them—for you and your company. The goal is not to return to normal. “Back to normal” is a dangerous illusion because it’s not going to happen. Video killed the radio star. Digital erased Blockbuster Video. There is no rewind button.

Blockbuster managed their way to a slow demise. Netflix invented the future.

When there are no rules, you get to create the rules—rules that align your values with the vision you see in the new normal .

I’m not just talking about having all the answers, or pretending you do. Leaders know to ask the right questions about the future.

Don’t Lead Alone

By definition, leaders cannot lead alone, and they must avoid the trap of isolation—especially in crisis. Put together “brain trust groups” for various departments in your organization and ask these questions:

  • What are we learning about how we operate?
  • What are our donors teaching us?
  • What are we learning about what truly is essential—and what could be eliminated?
  • Where do we want to be by the end of 2020?
  • What “new normals” do we see?
  • What can we do—right now—to take advantage of this unprecedented time to be in a better position to serve and inspire as a new normal unfolds?

Listen and speak

Using your values as guardrails, evaluate the ideas with your team and make the important decisions about your future. Then share them and take action together. This is a unique opportunity to put your values to the test.

Tap into your instincts. Communicate your vision—in every meeting and using every means of communication. (If it seems like you’re over-communicating the vision, you’re probably on the right track. If it feels scary to lead during a crisis, you’re probably doing it right.)

Leaders have the ability—and the responsibility—to focus on the future, listen to your team, and trust your instincts.

You can “manage the crisis” or lead your organization with bold vision. Which kind of leaders and ministries will thrive in 2021 and beyond? You already know the answer.


Dr. Nathan Baxter is the president of Lead Self Lead Others, an executive coaching and leadership consulting firm in Tulsa, which he and his wife, Dianne founded in 2001.


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