Matt Hyde: Pause for thought – why we must make time to think, even in a crisis

We're moving at a phenomenal pace to respond to the coronavirus crisis and keep our organisations afloat. But it's equally important that our sector's leaders make time to think, regroup and together find a path to a more generous, cohesive society

Matt Hyde
Matt Hyde

STOP.

Breathe.

Reflect.

Did you really need to be catapulted into that next Zoom, MS Teams or Skype for Business call?

Who knew that working from home could be quite so stressful?

For three weeks we have jumped from call to call, video conference to video conference. Why? Because, like everyone, we want to do the very best for our country, our people and society in response to this relentless, insidious virus.

And let’s face it: we are fighting for our organisations’ survival. The existential threat posed to so many charities means that things we thought were important a month ago are now irrelevant. Without the organisations we lead, we will let down the causes we love so much.

Radical rethinking

I never thought that here, at the Scouts, I would be so worried about money. We had a responsible level of reserves and it was unthinkable, until recently, that we would have to consider drawing so heavily on these. Everything changed when the reality of coronavirus dawned on us.

Since then, as a sector, we’ve been working 12 to 14 hour days, six to seven days a week, to do all we can to protect the things we hold most dear. We have been moving from one video conference to another, while juggling emails, WhatsApp groups, shifting from platform to platform, while homeschooling and caring for relatives. It has been like playing five musical instruments at the same time.

Moving at pace

We have had to act with pace and urgency as we make painful decisions about furloughing (a word we didn't even know before 2020). And we've had to do our best to keep our people buoyant in a sea of misery, though I've been so proud of the way our volunteers and staff have risen to the challenge.

Despite the setbacks and uncertainty, the team here at the Scouts has been magnificent, supporting families at home with #TheGreatIndoors, a collection of activities to help young people keep learning key skills now the schools are closed.

One of the most important factors of leadership is to determine the pace, so setting tone and speed of decision-making over the past few weeks has been crucial.

It's not that long since Mike Adamson, the chief executive of British Red Cross, said to me: “You need to see the management of this crisis as a series of five-day rolling programmes.”

So we are treating the coronavirus pandemic as a series of sprints at the Scouts. We've needed to move at a hyper-agile pace, and so far it has delivered results.

Why we need to breathe, think and regroup

When you're setting the pace in leadership, it's often harder to slow things down than speed them up. It's harder to give permission to our people to breathe, think and regroup. And it's sometimes hard to give yourself permission to slow down. It feels counterintuitive when everything around you is moving at such speed.

But as we come up to the Easter weekend, I think we all need to stop. Breathe. Reflect.

Some organisations on the front line of this crisis (and what a fantastic job they are doing) won’t have the luxury of pausing. But for many of us this means stripping out or slowing down all those emergency meetings we put in the diary.

The coronavirus crisis isn't a short-term problem. It's a crisis that will be with us for months. And because it's a marathon, not a sprint, we need the energy to stay the course.

So where we can we must step back and consciously slow down the pace to create the space needed for deep, thoughtful thinking. My coach once shared with me a saying he : “There is too much to do, there is not enough time. We must go more slowly.”

When the world is hurtling forward, sometimes we have to set our own, steadier pace rather than be blown like driftwood.

Holding our nerve

General Sir Nick Parker, my chair at Step Up to Serve, was head of the army in Afghanistan and reflected last week that, in the early stages of any conflict, chaos and uncertainty are the norm.

There is a risk that being active is seen as the right thing to do, but it can often be counterproductive and simply “chase the error”.

It's important to hold your nerve, concentrate on improving understanding as events unfold, stay as balanced as possible and then react as the opportunities emerge, which they inevitably will.

When we emerge from the immediate crisis, we must think more deeply about what comes next. What does the recovery look like? How do we want people to view our organisations and the sector in a year or two's time? And what's our role in building the fairer, better society we can create from this tragedy?

How together can we create a more cohesive society?

I know we're fighting for the future of our organisations and our sector, and some people might not feel they can get beyond the next week because of liquidity concerns (many of us are doing all we can to get the rescue package that's desperately needed).

But as leaders in the sector, we must stop, breathe and reflect, to focus on our own health and wellbeing and those around us (including checking in on our neighbours). It's our role to provide the leadership needed to build the cohesive, more generous society that we know should emerge from this emergency, and I know we will rise to the challenge.

Matt Hyde is chief executive of the Scouts

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