Leadership Lessons: What I Learned in Wave One

Published By Susan Bisaillon Chief Executive Officer, The Safehaven Project for Community Living As I reflect on the last seven months, I re-learned the impact of decision making that can make positive and hopefully transformational change for vulnerable communities. Throughout the pandemic, Safehaven has shown how resilient, innovative, and determined we are in the face of adversity. However, upon reflection, I am equally as humbled by areas where we can use some improvement. Right now, COVID-19 cases across Toronto and the province are on the rise. We have known for months that a second wave was likely inevitable. With children returning to school, adults heading back to the office, and more and more businesses opening their doors, it is not surprising that we see the numbers rise. So, what can we do to keep those who are most vulnerable safe? How can we keep our employees safe? I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I’m confident that one answer lies in leadership. Effective leadership means trusting and empowering the team built around you to do what they do best. It means being a leader who can make decisions, reassure employees, board members, volunteers, and families to stay the course through such a challenging time. Decision making can be intimidating but acknowledging that your decision affects the trajectory of someone’s life can impact and transform the individual and the system. Beyond preparing and committing to consistent and timely communications, the following are three lessons I learned about leading during wave one that set our Safehaven team up for supported success: 1. Promote Transparency and Honesty COVID-19 created an immediate need for answers, sometimes with an impossible turn around period – I was reminded that it was okay to not have all the solutions. Ahead of wave two, make sure you are open and honest with your employees, your stakeholders, and other partners within the field. Experiencing outbreak, isolation, or uncertainty isn’t something to be ashamed of; it’s happening all over the globe. By sharing your hurdles transparently, you invite an opportunity for partnership and collaborative solutions. You can’t solve a problem you haven’t labelled. 2. Intersectoral Collaboration and Resource Sharing Build networks. Ahead of wave two, think of 2-3 leaders in your respective sector or industry and reach out to them. Once you are honest with them about which elements of the pandemic caught you off guard, nurture an environment of resource sharing. In a pandemic, leaders sometimes have to address problems on the fly as they come. If you haven’t experienced that particular problem, it is okay to not have a policy or practice in place to respond – but yes, your partner organization might! No need to reinvent the wheel. 3. Celebrating Little Victories: Boosting Front-line Morale While I reference Safehaven’s incredible front-line workers, the following piece I learned goes for anyone leading a team, caring for co-workers, encouraging a board, or maintaining your volunteers: take a minute to celebrate the little victories. Even if you are less affected by COVID-19, pandemics, isolation, and negative news cycles can take a toll on your team. One of the easiest ways to keep morale boosted is starting or closing each meeting with a positive victory – no matter how small. An anecdote can recognize an employee, a client story, or even a global good news story and can reignite a spark that unites your team through another day. Success is a series of small wins: celebrate and build trust in your team. If these examples seem underwhelming, it may be because they’re simple to implement – but isn’t that the point? When you have little to no time to react to a life or death situation, think about building these three lessons into your prevention approach as we move into wave two. Throughout wave one, Safehaven provided Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) education modules, mask fit testing, and swabbing to over 4000 individuals across the Toronto Developmental Service, several health agencies, and shelters in the Violence Against Women sector. We might not have known the need if we did not invest in communicating, building out our network, or participating in and encouraging leader to leader transparency. And on top of that, we may not have sustained the learning curves if we didn’t celebrate the small victories while building a pilot project during a crisis. Effective leaders do not have all the answers to complex challenges, but they do create the conditions for solutions to emerge from everyone who cares about the outcome. We are changemakers. We are advocates. We are community. We Belong.