Ontario Roundtable on Crisis Leadership in The Midst of a Pandemic

NEWS RELEASE – MAY 7, 2020 – Ontario ELO supporters gathered via Zoom on May 6, 2020, for a “roundtable” regarding leadership in the midst of the challenges created by the present Coronavirus pandemic. ELO wants to combat the isolation of marketplace leaders by bringing together the community as best as possible. ELO roundtables are an opportunity to discuss "crisis leadership." What are the ways to lead in the present situation? What are the lessons to be learned from this situation? How are companies coping? What is a Christian perspective? Ultimately, how to lead in these circumstances?

Many business owners have been rocked by the present pandemic; a few have not. ELO supporters run businesses in retail, the service industry, construction and high-tech—many have been negatively impacted. There are significant financial and emotional challenges. A few businesses, such as a career company focused on layoffs, have been maintaining staff and revenue. The Ontario roundtable provided great insights on the present crisis from many perspectives, including leaders of businesses, non-profits, churches and an educational institution.

One business owner reflected that the present crisis is a “catalyst” for whatever may be going on for leaders in their businesses, churches or personal lives. Challenges have come to the forefront and are more evident than before. Similarly, positive motivations and priorities are leading to accelerated growth—allowing leaders to do more of what is important. Tony Kamphuis, Christian School Foundation, explained that in his role of working with supporters that he is doing a lot of listening now; people need to process the massive changes taking place around them and sort out how to adjust to them.

David Zeitsma, Provost, Redeemer University, noted that his institution is grappling with the new environment. Their offering includes, of course, large groups of students in classes and living in dormitories. Redeemer also has a significant conference and event business over the summer. David has found that in his discussions with various stakeholders that “it is important to be vulnerable and transparent. It is fine to admit that we don’t have all the answers and this is a very difficult situation.”

One issue that came up during the roundtable is the spectre of uncertainty in the present situation and not knowing the possible steps going forward. Marketplace leaders are planners and are typically in control—but in this case, they aren’t. As one leader said, “We don’t know what the ‘new normal’ looks like. How do we function in that new environment?” As another business leader said, “it takes energy to lead in these circumstances.”

How can leaders deal with employees in the present situation? One business owner explained that it’s important to “keep the communication happening, explaining what you’re doing, and humbly saying you don't have all the answers either. This is how we see it moving forward today but as more information comes out as things change in the market we need to continue to change as well. I share with employees at the close of every message I send that I continue to pray for them and their families that all is well and that they are healthy and safe through this whole it circumstance that we're going through.”

One business owner highlighted the challenges of being in the real estate business, doing development projects, managing properties and leading a team of salespeople. There are challenges on all fronts. Development projects take much longer to get approvals and the construction process itself is more time-consuming and uncertain. With respect to managing properties, it’s a challenge to collect rents. With salespeople, the primary compensation is sales—and the market has withered.

One participant, the lead pastor of a church in Toronto, said that their ministry continues but has needed to adapt. One challenge is that “during this transition it's been hard to make sure that we don't leave anybody behind as we take our physical church into an online environment and so we've been, you know, extending our reach as far as possible.”

One business owner explained that he has 400 people across the country along with several thousand subcontractors and suppliers that are working with his company. The present situation is indeed a challenge—and an opportunity. He shared that, “I have been extending a lot of grace to people because they are making choices and acting in ways that they normally never would. I am asking them to give the same kind of grace to me when I make mistakes.” He further explained, “As Winston Churchill said ‘don't waste a great crisis.’ We can't waste this opportunity as believers. I see myself as a pastor of a community within the construction industry and I know that there are many secular people watching my actions very intently and closely—and if there's ever a time to live your faith, this is it.”

The present pandemic provides an opportunity for Christian marketplace leaders to serve others in need. This is admittedly a big challenge when leaders themselves are under severe pressure. The roundtable provided a valuable forum for the exchange of useful ideas and to provide mutual encouragement to keep on with the good fight. Donna Holbrook, Canadian Director, International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, highlighted John 16:33: “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” A good reminder. ELO will be holding roundtables in the coming weeks for supporters in British Columbia and Singapore, respectively.