Do you work for a 21st century institution?
It's a simple question but surprisingly difficult to answer. Of course, we are in the 21st century, so in a way we all work for 21st century institutions. And I'm not talking about when your organization was founded either. What I mean is . . . does the organization you work for operate with a mindset that is rooted in 21st century ideas and ideals or does it hold more in common with the 20th century?
We are 20 years into the 21st century.
We are twenty years into this century. That's a fifth of the way to the 22nd century. And everyone knows some big shifts have occurred. However, major institutions are inherently resistant to change. What I'm seeing is that the pandemic is exposing the ways in which many organizations are hopelessly mired in a 20th century mindset and more importantly, 20th century ideas about leadership.
The good news is that once we can clearly see what's wrong, it throws light on the path forward to adapt and make things right.
Now, what exactly do I mean when I talk about these two mindsets? Here's a chart I compiled from a variety of sources that shows how our old ways can hold us back and the strategies that many (usually smaller) organizations are already employing as a means of survival and adaptation to this crisis.
Do any of these look familiar? Which column seems to align more with how decisions are made at your organization?
I feel grateful and lucky to work for an organization that has more alignment with the 21st century than the 20th. We have long embraced remote-work and distance learning and our leadership is much less hierarchical than other higher education institutions I've worked for. People are happier with work and happier in general when they have work-life integration and don't experience micro-managing and command and control leadership styles.
Basically, when leadership embraces a 20th century mindset, when faced with a crisis, that organization will likely double-down on scarcity mindset (laying off people preemptively), micro-management/measuring activity (meet your metrics), and command/control. But, what this moment needs is the adaptability and humility to try a new path. Focus on cultivating two-way communication on all levels, coaching employees to be productive in our new reality, adjusting goals to be reasonable, trusting our employees and supporting them, and finding ways to collaboratively partner with others.
Some higher education institutions are in big-time denial right now. I sincerely hope that the virus will subside and allow for more "normal" university operations this fall. But, given how the data is moving every day, I highly doubt it. Instead of anticipating failure or dreaming of miraculous changes in circumstances, could we instead work on adapting our models to this new reality? Those institutions that do will have an advantage going forward, both in terms of recruiting students and recruiting and keeping employees. Moving people and organizations through challenging times of change is true leadership, 21st century leadership.
In what ways do you see these mindsets manifesting in your organization? Do you feel like those ideas are serving your institution well in this environment? Tell me more in the comments!
PS - If you liked this post, you might also like these:
Jessica Cloud, CFRE
I've been called the Tasmanian Devil of fundraising and I'm here to talk shop with you.