Leadership in the Valley

by Frank Wooden

Leaders live for the season when they, and their organizations, are on the mountaintop- it is the goal of good leadership. The reality is, most leaders, even the great ones, spend a lot of time in the valley. Changing times turn the ups of an organization into downs and there is often no avoiding it. This is the situation most leaders find themselves in now. COVID-19, racial unrest, rising unemployment and economic uncertainty have led us to a valley and now is the time when real leadership is needed. How will you lead during this season? Here are some things to keep in mind as you navigate this difficult time.


Leaders consistently look for the mountaintop

Never lose sight of where your organization needs to be headed and keep that goal in front of you at all times. The goal is not for things to return to normal, this will likely never happen. The goal is to advance your mission by figuring new ways to accomplish it. Your budget may be a mess, the goal of owning a great facility may no longer seem necessary but the mission is still the mission. Start everyday figuring out how to move forward and work on the steps that you need to take.

Don’t just listen to the people you turned to in the past, include new voices.

Leaders ask questions and listen for answers

It is in the nature of a leader to tell others what they need to do but in a season of change, it is equally important to spend more time listening and being in reflection. Don’t just listen to the people you turned to in the past, include new voices. I have purposely broadened the scope of the voices that I let influence me these past few months and it has paid off with new insights. Who are the new voices you are listening to? Broaden your circle and get beyond the people most like you to discover new people that can help you get to the mountaintop.


Leaders make sure they don’t prolong the time spent in the valley

It is easier to make a mistake when things aren’t going well – desperate times can create desperate actions. The conundrum of this season is that you need to act quickly and decisively while avoiding being hasty and desperate. The way to do this is to do the leadership version of “measure twice, cut once.” Anyone who has needed to cut wood for a project knows this saying. If you need a board that is 25” long and you remember it as 24” and cut it at that length, you cannot regain the lost inch. So, you re-measure and are reminded that you need a board that is 25”. Before you make a decision, list all the information you have used to make that decision…and then do the process over again. Ask someone else to help you think through the process before you arrive at your decision. Perhaps you have overlooked something that could change the outcome. If you follow this process, you will avoid prolonging the time spent in the valley.


Leaders know that their words are important but their actions are what makes a difference

In a crisis, people need reassurance, they need clarification, and they need guidance. Your words can set the table for these things to happen with your staff, board, and others. Ultimately, your actions are what will change a situation. A paralyzed leader gradually stops being a leader. In this season of being in the valley, some leaders are being raised up while others are being left behind. Your first decision needs to be “I will make timely decisions.”

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