7 Leadership Principles For the COVID-19 Season

COVID-19 has exposed many fault lines and rather than hide and hope we can get back to the old ways of doing things, there presents new opportunities from this crisis, that if we are willing, will set our organisations on a course of action that will bring greater fruit for the Kingdom. 

Jossy Chacko has been in reflection mode in Stage 4 lockdown, leading an NGO Empart with a team of thousands around Asian Pacific from his home in Victoria. His thoughts on the crisis come from personal meditations as he observes the eagles that nest near his residence. In this article, Jossy reflects on the need to face the storm of the pandemic fearlessly and in full recognition that Jesus is in the boat with us. Here are 7 leadership principles for leading through the COVID-19 crisis. 

1. Lead With Self-Care in this Season

COVID-19 has knocked the wind out of many leaders’ sails. Next to the unexpectancy of a global pandemic, leaders have had to cope on a daily basis with news of staff who are facing emotional, financial and physical hardship. In crisis mode, it’s very easy to forget to invest in self-care as the needs around seem so great. We must heed to the wisdom of the safety instructions you hear on an aircraft before takeoff: “Put your mask on first then help others.” Give yourself permission to get help.

“Driver fatigue kills and leadership fatigue can kill leaders and organisations.”

The next season will take a lot of ENERGY- because you are recasting the vision, rebuilding teams and raising resources to get the momentum that you had before the pandemic. Be sensitive to your personality and emotions, taking the steps necessary to get support so you can get through this season. 

Taking care of yourself is not selfish, it is good stewardship. Get in good shape, whether it’s mentally, physically or emotionally. You don’t want to get to the ‘next norm’ and find that your tank is empty.

2. Lead by mending holes and fixing cracks

COVID-19 has created many holes and cracks in what we have built in the previous season. Don’t assume you can just pick up where you have left off and continue to lead. Whether it’s financial cracks or issues with vision, we cannot move forward as leaders unless we address the breaches the pandemic has generated.

“The Church has also taken many forms over time, with new models disrupting the old.”

From small family groups to house churches, from city and state to country size churches. To be German was to be Lutheran, Scottish Presbyterian and English, the Church of England. Then we chose a less nationalist approach and went to Denominations. Then came independent churches and networks and home churches again. What will be next? Who can say but COVID-19’s disruption asks us to explore possible futures. Perhaps it will be a combination of face to face and online. Much depends on the length of time before a vaccine is found.

“Don’t go fishing with holes in the net and holes in the boat- it will save a lot of heartache.”

COVID-19 has really shaken people. The thinking of our team has shifted as they have been given more time to reflect. Relationships may also have drifted as we have had less face-to-face contact. We need to be brutally honest and not pretend everything is well. It will take a revived vision, renewed team spirit and investment in resources to realign and bring things back into order and structure.

“Could God be disrupting us even now, leading us to a new place through this disruptive chaos, so as to re-equip us to bless the world with new life and power?”

3. Lead with Revision, Reflection and Readjust Where Required

As leaders we will face one of two temptations. We will either be drawn to dive back into the old ways of doing things or tempted to throw out the old structure and adopt something completely new. What leaders need to do instead of rushing ahead is to stop, revise, reflect and readjust. 

This journey of revision, reflection and readjustment should be taken by your leadership team. Just take a few steps back to pray and seek God. Wisdom comes from God so ask Him for wisdom. The Book of James says:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”

James 1:5 (NIV)

The Bible also notes that plans succeed when we consult with many sound counsellors (Proverbs 15:22). So taking time is important to hear divergent voices from your sphere of influence so you can broaden your horizons during this time. 

Don’t miss a good crisis. It’s a great season for a great clean up of your organisation. It is a time of cutting, pruning, decluttering and removing programs or even people you have developed so that the new structure can thrive in the ‘new normal.’ Remember to be a good leader, you not only need good births but also good funerals, being able to say goodbye to something that is no longer in God’s plan.

4. Lead into the Beyond

We need to lead with a long-term vision. One of the impacts of COVID-19 on everybody is that it’s caused a collective short-sightedness. With an overwhelm of social media and news feeds reporting daily COVID-19 cases, the reaction to the 6 week Stage 4 lockdown has caused much anxiety and distress. But we need to have a long-term perspective. It’s just 6 weeks and is not the end of the world. 

If we turn our focus on the next 10 and 20 years, we can start to plan to rebuild for something far more sustainable than trying to build strategies around the short-term where there are so many variables that are changing on a daily basis. 

Adopting a long-term perspective will take a lot of weight and pressure off you. The unpredictability of COVID-19 on our way of life may be here for 12 to 18 months or even longer if there is no vaccine. In the meantime, use this down time to rebuild skills for ourselves and for the team and invest in resources for the long term season that is ahead.

5. Lead with Innovation and Creativity

We need to lead with innovation and creativity. Some businesses might need to die but if you are an entrepreneur that does not mean the end. Be good stewards of this season, looking for opportunities. Difficult times and lack of resources result in creative solutions as the proverbial wisdom suggests:

“Necessity is the mother of invention.”

We can learn from the poor in how they come up with amazing solutions to their socio-economic problems. I’ve been asking our leaders to take one hour of every day of their time- no praying, no reading, no talking to just meditate on what we have been doing, where we are now and where we want to be. 

I’ve been collating these notes and will be using these for Empart to reset for the next season. One of the big questions I’ve asked our leaders is:

“What are we not doing that if we did it now, would fundamentally change the trajectory of our mission results and impact?”

Give permission for your teams to go crazy with their input. Remember that there will be failure, there will be mistakes as failure is the flipside of innovation and creativity. We can see all throughout the Bible that God is not looking for a perfect leader or perfect ministry; rather He is looking for people that will own the responsibility of their decisions, learn from their mistakes and grow from it, bouncing back and moving forward. 

Don’t be like Adam in the Bible who hides when he makes a mistake. God is looking for you to lead and create in this time, not to bury your talent in the sand. Take heart from the Apostle Paul who knew what it was like to face setbacks when he says: 

“No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead.”

Phillippians 3:13 (NLT)

We should hold this scripture in tandem with Jesus’ teaching of the old and new wineskins.

“And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. Instead, new wine is poured into new wineskins.”

Mark 2:22 (NIV)

Jesus is saying don’t put the new wine into the old and don’t put the old wine into the new- keep them separate. It’s not about doing away with the old, it’s about starting the new in parallel so both will be saved. God’s works change, but His character of seeing no one perish remains the same.

6. Leading with Confidence

COVID-19 has brought up a lot of fear in people. Whether it’s financial, emotional or health related- the pandemic has quickly depleted confidence levels. But leading with confidence is an essential ingredient to taking people on the journey.

“While good strategies and ideas are important for any leader. if there is no confidence, you can’t build or execute anything.” 

Your confidence is not in yourself but in God. It is God who called you and gave you vision, not your own resources and credentials. 

There is much to learn from observing eagles during storms. I’m fortunate enough to live near an eagle nest and what I’ve seen among these large birds of prey is nothing short of astonishing. An eagle flies into the wind and into the storm. Rather than dominating the storm, it climbs through it until it flies above. Imagine the perspective the eagle has by flying above the storm?

“We need to be in a higher place to lead through this.”

God always says to His people to come up higher and see things from His perspective. The eagle’s vision is from above a storm, unlike other creatures that view it from beneath.  We cannot afford to be like else- unable to see through the pandemic. Like King David in the famous Psalm 23, we also need to say:

“Even when I walk through the darkest valley I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.”

Psalm 23:4 (NLT)

The legacy of your leadership will be built over the adversities you overcome. This is a great opportunity for leaders to build a great legacy. This pandemic is not here to break your leadership but bring you into something better, more aligned with God’s Kingdom. God always promised he would not give you more than you could handle (1 Corinthians 10:13).

7. Lead with Peace

COVID-19 has brought up a lot of fear in people. Whether it’s financial, emotional or health related- the pandemic has quickly depleted confidence levels. But leading with confidence is an essential ingredient to taking people on the journey.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

John 14:27 (ESV)

This trial will pass and when we rely on God, is for our own benefit. Receive His confidence in this COVID-19 season and move forward. 

Jossy Chacko
Founder and President of Empart
International Speaker
Author of MADNESS