Leading in a Time of Great Change

Jay Gogue

Adaptability has meant everything in 2020. We face an unprecedented global and national crisis, which has caused leaders to rethink policies, processes and operations while maintaining a flexible and adaptable approach in response to a volatile environment.

In my time serving as Auburn’s president, I’ve learned that honest and thoughtful preparation are critical for times such as these. As we look ahead toward 2021, leaders must start preparing now to guide those under their wings through another potentially turbulent season.

Here are three recommendations for success in times of great change:

  • Cultivate positive relationships. People are at the core of effective leadership efforts. One cannot lead without understanding the people they are leading. Effective leaders guide those who share common values while finding compromises in disagreement. These leaders remain steadfast in building a better environment for their team and stakeholders. In both maintaining and strengthening relationships, it’s vital to value people for who they are. You can purposefully work toward cultivating positive relationships and creating communities by asking questions, listening effectively, considering the merits of everyone and developing mutual commitment.
  • Demonstrate clear and honest communication. COVID-19 has caused all of us to become disconnected in multiple ways, thus our means to communicate have shifted. An effective leader is intentional in finding creative ways to clearly and transparently communicate with all stakeholders, finding unique ways to communicate best with each community. Consider a few thought-provoking questions:
    • What’s working for you/us?
    • What’s getting in the way?
    • What are our options?

After processing these questions, take time to reflect, then act.

  • Be realistic with an optimistic view. People respect when the person in charge is upfront about what is going on. More importantly, people can see through the phoniness of a leader who does not address the obvious. Realistic optimism doesn’t equate to settling for less ambitious outcomes. Instead, realistic optimism provides others with a guiding vision to achieve exceptional results.

Times of great change require adaptability and shifts in leadership approach. If we are to come out stronger, going forward we must think differently while communicating effectively – for the good of our organizations and the people in them.

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Jay Gogue is president of Auburn University.

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