Leading a Recovery Discussion



There you are. Standing up in front of your staff. You are nervous for some reason even though you know them. You know them well. But, you haven’t necessarily seen them regularly, lately. Maybe you caught up with some of them on the phone or on a screen somewhere in your house or car. Maybe you kept in touch and coached them to do great work for their students. Maybe you walked by them while holding your dog’s leash tightly so he or she didn’t sway too far into their personal space. You know the deal. We have been socially distanced in flesh and blood. But, this is not the first crisis that will ever hit us, unfortunately. Sure, it is the most strangely unique crisis that we have ever seen, or our parents have ever seen, or our grandparents have ever seen outside of World War II, the Vietnam War, or on 9/11/01.


Whether you are experiencing these feelings way before or well after this guide comes out and reaches your inbox, you will have “been there and done that” all the same, somehow, really soon. But what did you do when you met with your staff? What was your recovery discussion like? Whether it is a post-COVID-19 discussion or a post-funeral discussion, or a post-discussion after a physical loss of something, recovery is crucial and often forgotten. Where there is an entry plan, there is also the need for an exit plan. Recovery plans are re-entry plans after exiting from something. So, what will you do first and what will you do next?


What’s in Your Stomach?

Your gut is speaking to you. You have an empty space in your stomach because you have experienced some sort of loss alongside your colleagues. They are looking to you, right now, maybe for some guidance, motivation, comfort, or energy. Maybe you need to share what is in your stomach? How did you open your discussion? Did you show emotion? Did you talk to your staff as a person first, instead of a school leader, right out of the gates? Did you unveil your gut or go directly into business? Did you swarm them with too much, too soon? Did you engage them in a silly activity when all they really wanted from you was for you to talk to them from your gut and your heart? Did you plan some sort of welcome back party with all of the frills, bells, and whistles, or did you talk to them with true sincerity?

Did you chicken out? We all may have at some point in the past.


Did you come across as too much about you and not enough about them? Did you steam roll them? Did you break them up into groups when all they wanted was to sit, alone, individually, while still practicing social distancing because they have been trained to do this as a new habitual form of modern-day socialization? Did you try to use humor when all they wanted to do was maybe let out a good cry? So, what did you do? What will you do now (and even next time)? God forbid that there is another next time, but we cannot rule it out. Who knows what lies ahead?


What Comes Out of Your Mouth?

Why not tell it like it is? Tell it from your heart. Tell it the way you would want to be told. Share your vulnerabilities. Share your struggles. Don’t just stand there looking like a fool who is out of touch with his or her own life. Open up when opening your mouth. The last thing anyone needs is a monotone, wet blanket to comfort them. What was your hiatus like? Will you tell them? No one is ever going to be the same after all of this. You know that. But maybe they don’t know that. Or, maybe they haven’t even thought about it.


Tell them about your families, your kids, your life. Tell them about your fears, your hopes, and your dreams. Tell them about some powerful things that happened to you. Stand there and give a soliloquy without taking the stage. Share the gifts that you received while being on hiatus. Share the love and admiration you felt to reconnect with those who sometimes take a backseat to your career. Open up your mouth and do not preach or sit on top of a soapbox, but rather stay grounded as an honest human being who went through it all, even from a distance.


Business as Usual?

If you encounter others who think things will just go back to the way they were before the crisis hit, you have a lot of work ahead of you. First, you have to think about how you feel about getting back to the daily grind. Will it look differently in the future? Will it feel differently? Will the school experience for both students and staff be different? Will your aim for education be undermined by your state guidelines and responsibilities that might not change your situation drastically at all? Does the political system ultimately drive our own local changes or status quo sustainment? We have to take all of this into account before we utter the first word to anyone during a recovery discussion.


What if you are leading your staff or community and you get 100% buy-in to do something differently than the way it was done in the past? Do you move forward with vast, sweeping changes? Do you still tread with care? Do you gather information? Data? Surveys? Reach for statistics? Whatever you do, you must inform your decisions with a solid footing on a thoughtful foundation if something will work better than it did before.


Gathering information can be localized and does not always need to be research-based.

Whatever you do, the gas pedal should be applied, but not floored. I mean, we have to move forward in some manner, don’t we? Conversely, what if your staff just wants to get back to the way things were, but your stomach is telling you otherwise? That is where the rubber meets the road and you then become conflicted with what you think is right in comparison with what everyone else thinks is not wrong.


The future depends on forward movement, but not without preserving that which works in a primitive sense. And when I say primitive, I do not mean out-of-date. I mean that which works and still stands the test of time, kind of like the wheel, fire, or toilet paper. Toilet paper hasn’t changed much since 1853 because it works. Human relationships really drive everything in a pre-recovery mode AND post-recovery mode. The essence of everything that we accomplish is because we accomplish it with others, collectively, together.


Relationship Recovery

So, what if you have incredible relationships with your staff or community and that type of bonding hurdle is something that you do not have to get over? When I think about change and change agency, I cannot help but to think about coming to consensus. Consensus is not 100% agreement. It is coming to the senses that what will take place will not harm or hurt anyone and that is what you can, ultimately, live with each day. For the most part, you are ok with a decision that resides under sheer consensus.


Yet, there is one thing that cannot be ignored: Both our staff and students need something more than we think we need to offer them. Will our schools continue to offer good teaching? Yes. Will our teachers have new tools coupled with their previous skills that make them even smarter, more technical, and more in touch with modern education? Yes. Will the relationships that you have with your staff mirror the demand that relationships will need to have between staff and students? Yes. Do we all have basic needs that need to be met before we delve into setting policies and procedures for our recovery mode plan? Of course we do.


I wonder what leading a recovery discussion really is, I am left with one burning idea that won’t cost you anything. What if you have your colleagues read this chapter together--as I would recommend having your entire team read the rest of this book together, as well? If you are all on the same page regarding the strategy behind your recovery plans, it will help you to lead the discussion that much more easily. A coach’s playbook, in this sense, [in education or the community] should not be a secret because we are all on the same team. You are not trying to beat anyone.


A 10-Point Notepad Prescription for Leading a Recovery Discussion

If we think about leading an intentional leadership recovery discussion which will begin the conversation and build a discourse for your organization, what are the steps to remember as you work with your stakeholders in figuring out the best course of action during a time when action is absolutely necessary? Remember, you will have just a few minutes to capture your audience before they either follow you or dismiss you. As a result, it is important to remember:


1. Share what is in your stomach. You are human. You have a gut and a heart. You want to connect with others in the most human, personalized way possible. Even during recovery mode, the relationships that you foster will be what stands the test of time.


2. Personalize the experiences that YOU had during a crisis. Your most powerful, inner stories of the heart will drive you to safe shores.


3. Get litmus test results from the group and about the group. If you do not spend some time gathering input, you will not know your audience or the direction that you need to now head in. Remember, your colleagues might not be the same people you thought you knew or now think you know. Everyone can change on a dime especially when crisis hits.


4. Expect high expectations even during times of crisis. You mustn't let your guard down during times of crisis and recovery exploration. It might feel right to minimize the experiences of your organization because healing needs to take baby steps. But, in reality, never, ever water down where you need to go next. Remember, recovery mode is the result of something external forcing you to think otherwise because the planet turned upside down before our very eyes. Even if change is not appetizing, circumstances may dictate change, automatically.


5. Make informed decisions. Shooting from the hip never goes well. Plus, naysayers might just sit back and say, “Here we go again, making changes just because . . .”


6. Bite off a little at a time. Go slow. Your school wasn’t built in a day. You have more time than you think.


7. Don’t hit the accelerator until YOU are ready. What if everyone else is ready to do something about your current state of affairs, but you are not quite ready? That’s OK. Slow down. Ask yourself if all stones have been uncovered. Share your lingering questions with your colleagues. They will help you, reassure you, or convince you to re-think something when you think that you have surveyed every topic, every issue, or every nook-and-cranny.


8. Deal with your current reality. You are not the president of the United States AND Congress. You may have only so much control over your locus of focus. Create systems that can withstand policy reform or policy changes. Dream big, but do it within the system that you must operate in each day. Systematic changes can only take place when those who place demands on you relieve their own pressure on your localized system.


9. Be open to changing what you believe, but don’t change who you really are. If your stomach is upset about something, you cannot just sit there and say that you are healthy. Don’t fool others or go with the flow because you cannot truly fool yourself.


10. Rely on point #1 when things become complicated. This is self-explanatory. Always, always, be open and honest about how you are feeling. If you don’t, you are just throwing water on a grease fire.

This chapter came from the FREE book, entitled Recovery Mode.

For more information about the rest of Recovery Mode, visit www.pushboundconsulting.com.

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Rick Jetter, Ph.D.

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