During this outbreak, let’s be warriors

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, it’s time for a renewed focus on making a difference.

By Kathy Coffey / Leadership Snohomish County

We are looking for a new familiar.

We are all hospicing the passing of life as we have come to know it and acting as a midwife to newly emerging patterns of compassionate caring and interconnectedness.

As a recent article in The Herald reminds us, the Spanish flu pandemic hit in 1918. As a society, we’ve been here before — but that was more than 100 years ago. We are navigating a very different society now. Nothing can be assumed or taken for granted. We’re making lots of decisions, each day, all day long.

Where to look for guidance? Potentially, so many places, if as leaders we focus on resilience and persistence. From civil rights and farm worker movements to the current work with refugees and immigrants. Many before us have persevered in difficult conditions. They redefined what normal was in their time.

Add to this the civic divide of our times. A public health crisis demands that we pull together for the sake of one another — that we make decisions not just for the sake of our well being but for shared well being. Yet as I operate and make decisions using a set of facts and knowledge, I can’t assume that my neighbor or customer or supplier is using that same basis to make decisions.

The reality is that each of us must choose to lead from where we are, with what we know to be true, with the expertise and resources we have, and with compassion in abundance.

Warriors are people who focus their lives and work on making a difference.

I was to attend Margaret Wheatley’s Warriors for the Human Spirit training this spring. You probably didn’t hear about it on the news, but it was cancelled, along with March Madness, so many concerts, art exhibits, festivals, conferences and other highly-anticipated gatherings.

Warriors, according to Wheatley, are people who focus their lives and work on making a difference. We need this warrior mindset. From the beginning of history, there have been people dedicated to protecting and serving others. Individuals who believe that who we are and where we live are worth the energy and time to preserve and defend. The human spirit prevails. Is this not the definition of resilience?

This quote from Sir John Glubb has relevance for our times:

While despair might permeate the greater part of the nation, others achieved a new realization of the fact that only readiness for self-sacrifice could enable a community to survive. Some of the greatest saints in history lived in times of national decadence, raising the banner of duty and service against the flood of depravity and despair.

Who do you look to as a warrior role model? I see that I am surrounded by warriors here in our region. Reaching out to Leadership Snohomish County alumni, I am in awe of the value and importance of leaders who are working to do just that in these times.

As this public health emergency emerged, Crystal Donner, president and CEO of Perteet Inc., met with her leadership team daily, proactively created interim guidance plans and shared information and resources with colleagues across the nation.

“Being president of a company, our leadership team has run scenarios of every kind on how to handle disruptions to our business,” she said. “And although we have done the same for a pandemic, nothing prepares you for the real thing. We are working hard to follow the latest information on COVID-19 and take the best actions for our employees while still providing the services our clients need from us. The bright side of all this so far is the show of community I have seen at every level. I hope we can all continue to work together for the greater good in our local communities as this challenge continues.”

Argelia Grassfield, regional director at YWCA Seattle-King-Snohomish, is making decisions while going to multiple YWCA sites, freeing up staff members who must be home to take care of their children. It takes a personal toll, but she is comforted knowing that she is not alone in these difficult times.

“I appreciate the reminders about the importance of self-care and how important it is to focus on relationship building” she said. “A sense of humor and laughter are powerful tools, too, especially in times such as these. Even little things such as sharing photos of your pets can make a difference. So can journaling — encouraging staff or program participants to write their experiences down and share their stories. Showing kindness and care will help us go through these hard times together.

“I need to remind myself that as a leader, I need to give myself compassion first, lead by example and take care of myself in order to take care of my people,” Grassfield said.

Spring is event fundraising season for so many of our Snohomish County nonprofits. Leaders like Lance Morehouse, CEO of non-profit Sherwood, which advocates for people with disabilities, are making tough decisions about cancelling or postponing events, or asking donors to give online instead, creating virtual events to meet the very real financial needs of their organizations.

“Leading an organization like Sherwood in good times and through a time of incredible growth comes with its challenges, but leadership is sometimes defined by how you react when confronted with a crisis,” Morehouse said. “The biggest thing I cling onto from my experience in LCS is grit. It’s grit, the ability to work hard for a long period of time towards a goal; to persevere, overcome and keep moving forward in the face of adversity, failure, rejection and obstacles.

“The reality we are living in during this moment brings incredible challenges and many decisions that we have made as an agency are based on risk assessments. At Sherwood, I have been very lucky to put together a strong directors team with great skills, talents and perspectives. In addition, compassion for the work we do, the people we serve and supporting our employees have all made it easier to react to these trying times. We have been able to make proactive decisions for the people we support, our employees, while still staying focused on our long term goals.”

Warriors lead with ethics.

As warriors, let’s ground ourselves in the Dalai Lama’s “Principles for Ethical Strategies.” He wrote these in response to genetic testing, and I see a comparison with our current COVID-19 situation:

• Ensure that compassion is the motivation.

• Any problem must take into account the big picture and long-term consequences rather than short-term feasibility.

• In applying reason, we must stay honest, unbiased, and self-award, vigilant to avoid self-delusion.

• Stay humble — know the limits of our knowledge and also realize we can easily be misguided in a rapidly changing reality.

• The foremost concern is the well-being of humanity and the planet we inhabit.

The work of all of our first responders, hospitals and those in health care have defined pioneering. Compassion and common sense are meeting as daily phone calls take place with decision makers. Doctors, facilities managers, insurance companies and all facets of healthcare professionals are focused. They are being warriors for all of us.

None of this feels familiar yet. We don’t know what’s next, but we know who we are. We know one another. We know that we will find a new familiar as we adjust and support one another.

And we know that together, we can do more. Let’s be warriors.

Kathy Coffey is executive director of Leadership Snohomish County, the local organization that connects, ignites and develops leaders to strengthen our communities. To learn more about Leadership Snohomish County, visit www.leadershipsc.org.

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