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[Dr Andy Wear]
Well, good morning Ralph Gigliotti and good evening to you in--
[Dr Ralph Gigliotti]
Thank you, glad to be here.
In New Jersey, yes.
That's right. Getting a bit cooler here in Melbourne and a bit warmer there, no doubt. So, I wish we could change places, but do what we can.
A few questions for you this morning. One, I'm going to kick off with straight away is, that assuming certain characteristics that lend themselves to leading successfully during times of crisis and disruption, how can we support leaders who might not possess these characteristics to best to support their teams?
It's a good question, Andy. I work in a centre for organisational leadership at Rutgers and we give this question a good deal of thought. Particularly, as you think about building and elevating leadership capacity. In some of the research that I've done on crisis leadership, there are lots of different values and skills and competencies that we see-- that seem to be most important in leading during times of disruption or crisis. The importance of trust. The importance of being transparent. The importance of effective communication and engagement with others. Being resilient, being honest. Showing compassion. All are important when things are normal, but during times of crisis, the stakes become increasingly higher.
So, the question about how we can support leaders who might not possess those characteristics? I think it brings attention to the importance of training and development into the work that we're doing to give people an infrastructure to consider how to focus on these competencies during the different stages of crisis. One of the taxonomies, Andy, looks at pre-crisis, crisis and post-crisis. So, before the crisis, what are the things that individuals can do to focus on these skills? The trainings they can participate in, the readings they can do to learn more about the concepts and the opportunities for practice, to become more familiar with what they might do when a crisis strikes.
During the crisis itself, where we find ourselves now across the globe, sense making. Making sense of where we are, how are those crisis leadership competencies showing up and how do we engage with one another. And being really reflective as practitioners to question how we are showing up as leaders in the eyes of those that are looking to us for leadership. I think the post-crisis phase is probably the most important as we look ahead, a post-mortem to engage in real critical thinking around what worked well for us as leaders, what worked well for institutions.
But also, where did we fail? Where were things less then efficient? In what ways did those leadership competencies not come through in ways that are most helpful to our teams, our departments and our institutions. Again, it makes a work of training and development all the more important. And, I think, to help individual leaders harness those talents, become more reflective of them, and think about how they would apply them when the next crisis strikes. It really calls for some experiential learning.
Thanks Ralph, that's a nice segue into my next question, actually, because we are in the middle of a particular type of crisis or disruption, if you like, with COVID-19. I'm curious how you see this differing from other crises or disruptions in terms of leadership response. Are there similar themes or actions in other crises, or do they each bring particular challenges? And what can we learn from this particular situation that will help leaders for future development?
Yeah, they're sort of a paradox in crisis, Andy, because as Coombs writes, crises are unpredictable phenomena, yet not unexpected. That's why a pre-crisis matter so much. We know we will be dealing with some sort of crisis in the future, we don't know what it might look like, nor do we know when it will happen. At the same time, the paradox lies in this idea that no two crises are the same. Even if we were to deal with another pandemic, it would look and feel different than the one we are going through now, because the conditions are different, the context is different. We know more than we might know now in dealing with COVID-19.
I always point to the etymological roots of crisis, and I love in the crisis literature, it is really well represented there. The crisis serves as dangerous opportunities. So, although no two crises might be the same, there is opportunity for learning and invention and reinvention in the crisis itself. What's really noticeable about this particular crisis and notable, actually, is we are witnessing in the US, and I know in Australia, what some have called a heroic effort to move all of our educational delivery online. To put massive restrictions on travel from students, faculty and staff. To transform our institutions and the services that we provide that are community-centred and truly responsive to the crisis of our times.
And we are also taking guidance-- I know it in the US and I'm sure it's the case for Australia as well, from our national experts, our public health experts and our national agencies. We are in this together in ways that are different from past crises. When you look at institutional specific crises, there's a lot of messiness to it, because it almost feels like we're going at it alone. We are trying to make sense of internally, at our institution, what are we wrestling with? In what ways is this plaguing us in our decision-making, in our systems and structures and policies? What I think we are seeing from COVID-19 is sort of an integrated approach to it. We're looking at what peer institutions are doing. We are taking guidance from national authorities and public experts, public health experts. And it's different in many ways.
Very much so. And that sort of brings me to my final question then, have you-- or has there been a higher education leader or leadership team that is observed during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, who you might consider role models for crisis leadership?
Yeah, so I have been engrossed in all the reading on COVID-19 and I feel inspired. I feel inspired by what we are seeing at the institutional level from different leaders and different leadership teams. And also, collectively at this response to the public health emergency of our time.
I want to share a quote real quick, Michael Useem of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania suggests that "everyone has a leadership role to play during a crisis. In part, because leadership makes the greatest difference when the world around us is uncertain. When we are unsure about what lies ahead". So, let me offer a couple of examples of individuals and teams and institutions that have stood out in my observations. And let me also acknowledge my perspective is inherently biased for this Western media market and North America media market.
So, in the US, from what I am witnessing, we see a number of university medical centres and academic health centres that are on the front lines of addressing the crisis. And from the University of Washington and Johns Hopkins University, Stanford and Rutgers. We see these medical centres and these teams on the front lines of testing for COVID-19 and really trying to discover the vaccine. So, I think it's a noticeable leadership endeavour there.
A number of universities have converted their sites for the benefit of the community, turning gyms into healthcare facilities, turning residence halls into housing for our health experts and those on the front lines at our hospitals. I did my bachelors at a school, Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. And my master's at Villanova University, and now I did my PhD and I work at Rutgers University. So, I get lots of emails from all three institutions. What I've noticed from the senior leaders, the presidents at all three institutions, I think it serves as a nice model for all of us, including folks at your institution, when you think about how to handle these kinds of crises. In their responses, in their messaging, an acknowledgement of the victims who have been impacted most directly by this crisis. An admitting of the uncertainty, we don't know what this is going to look like in the next few months. And being very honest and forthcoming about it.
Being honest about the challenges that this will have on the institution. Not just the finances, but the reputational challenges and the challenges in terms of how we provide and accord structure as a university. Recognising the contributions of the community. So, the ways in which faculty and staff and students have helped the community to rally around a response that would be most meaningful. Aligning the responses with the mission of the organisation. I spent some time on the RMIT website earlier today and I think to couch the response of the University in terms of this mission that is noble and that we hold as dear at the University. To respond in a way that does align with this core mission is a really important strategic decision that will serve the interest of the University in the long-term.
And lastly, to offer a vision for what tomorrow might look like. Although, that tomorrow is fuzzy. Although that tomorrow is unclear. But one that is promising. One that is hopeful. One that displays the ways in which the University can reimagine itself in service of the communities that we serve. So, I think, um, I sort of sidestepped your question about which teams and which leaders are role models. But I think there are pockets of excellence across the higher education landscape for which we can all learn to be proud.
Thanks Ralph. Yeah, it does seem like the majority are getting it right. Which is really comforting and your institution and mine both seem to be doing the right thing. So, that gives us great hope in this time. Look, I really appreciate your time across these different time zones and I'm sure we will get the chance to chat again. And look, I will be putting your details and some of those resources you mentioned up on our side for the readers to have a look at. Once again, thanks so much and all the best.
Thank you and the best to you and your colleagues as well.