In recent weeks, COVID-19 has upended the ways many of us educate our students in higher education.  As we maintain social distance to prevent the spread of this virus, higher education institutions have navigated an unprecedented landscape that has required most to close physical spaces, define new policies and resources to support students and staff, and transition to remote learning.  For most, there was and is no clearly defined path to follow. We move forward one day at a time as we learn new information, assess possible options, and embark on untraveled paths.  Traversing this unfamiliar terrain with our communities is leadership in practice.

We move forward one day at a time as we learn new information, assess possible options, and embark on untraveled paths.

As we engage in the process of change and come to understand the ways this virus is affecting our communities, we must balance divergent needs and priorities when envisioning paths forward.  We must address the multitude of student needs while maintaining the financial viability of the institution.  We adhere to guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus while continuing to provide central organizational function. We maintain a sense of community while isolated in our own homes.  As we strike this balance, we may make missteps along the way and face backlash when others feel we don’t make the right decisions. 

This is the challenge of leadership. To be resilient as we work with others. To navigate this terrain the best we can. To maintain a sense of hope in our future together.

Higher education is not the only field facing this challenge—every industry and sector of society is touched by this phenomenon.  Educators may wonder how well prepared their students and graduates are to work collaboratively with others and to cope with and mitigate these circumstances as much as possible.  Whereas this pandemic is an extreme case, to what degree are our students able to reason through complex situations, be resilient in the face of adversity, and maintain hope when the future is not clear?  How well have we prepared graduates to lead with their communities when traversing unfamiliar terrain? 

As we look to the future, these may be important questions for us to consider when thinking about leadership education and development for our students.  To do this, we need to better understand our students’ current leadership skillsets and mindsets as well as evaluate where to best direct our efforts to support their developmental needs.  Hopefully, as we intentionally address these areas in our leadership development programs, we’ll strengthen communities that can effectively address unprecedented challenges, like our current context, with care.