Leadership, adaptation and relevance
Note: This is a slightly updated version of an unpublished essay I originally wrote in the early weeks of COVID-19. Due to the nature of the subject matter and the longevity of the pandemic, these reflections are as relevant today as they were a year ago.
“Adapt. Pivot. Transition. Translate.”
These are the words that have been ringing through my mind throughout all of 2020. If you are in a position of leadership, some version of them has probably been on your mind, too.
These words, along with the following reminder: “Remain true to your mission.”
Change and remain true at the same time. This is the challenge that leaders have continued to face throughout COVID-19 — the dynamic interplay between our identity and our relevance. How do we identify ourselves as people and as organizations? And is that self-description sufficiently relevant in this ongoing moment of challenge?
These are not easy questions to ask. They are even harder questions to answer. They threaten to unnerve us at our best, to undo us at our worst. But this is the call that all leaders must answer in these challenging times. Who are we, as leaders and organizations? And what is it about our mission that remains critically important in this season of continued upheaval? What about our mission now seems shallow or trite? And do we have the courage to own the fact that history may be calling us, for a season, to become a different version of ourselves for those whom we lead?
At RiverWise, the organization I lead, we are trying to be honest and public about how these dynamics are playing out in our work. We’re being honest and public because our organization has always worked to be transparent and forthright about the challenges that come with visible leadership. But we are also being honest and public because the ongoing work that needs to be accomplished in this season must be a transparent and collaborative effort that involves a wide swath of vision and input from those whom we serve.
Although we continue to adapt in this season, this does not mean that we are radically reinventing ourselves. We are still all about dreaming, learning, and collaborating together. We are still about encouraging civic participation, about telling stories that disrupt prevailing narratives that limit how we view ourselves. We are still focused on forging a regional identity that demonstrates our capacity to celebrate what is common and hopeful among us. Yes, we may be humming that tune in a different key for the foreseeable future. But the discerning listener can still hear a familiar melody laced throughout the song we are now performing.
Now, more than ever, we need leaders who understand what has changed and what must remain the same, what can persist and what must adapt. As leaders, we cannot stand still and wait for others to address the challenges we must face. The challenges are too many, and the messiahs too few.
As Beaver County moves into the coming season, it is more important than ever that those in leadership ask hard questions about what they most value, why they have assumed the mantle of leadership, whom they have been called to serve, and what kind of communities they seek to create under their leadership. Though we are living through a time of tremendous chaos and upheaval, we are also heirs to immeasurable opportunity. Leading in times of social upheaval requires more than merely managing chaos; it requires embracing visionary and bold risk, embracing what is possible more than settling for what is comfortable.
In these coming months, we must continue to lead with boldness. Adaptive and relevant boldness. None of us will get there perfectly. But we must be on our way.
Daniel Rossi-Keen, Ph.D., is the co-owner of eQuip Books, a community bookstore in Aliquippa and the executive director of RiverWise, a nonprofit employing sustainable development practices to create a regional identity around the rivers of Beaver County. You can reach Daniel at email@example.com.
Originally published at https://www.timesonline.com.