Leadership and Advocacy in Times of Crisis
Never, never, never give up.
– Winston Churchill
In this unit, you will learn about strategies to implement leadership and advocacy in times of crisis. You may not know what crisis lies ahead, but rest assured you will face a man-made or natural disaster in your time as a counselor educator and supervisor. A crisis may have national or global impact, such as the terrorists acts of 9/11, climate change, or Covid-19. However, crisis management as a counselor educator, leader, and advocate may also take the form of a localized event, like a campus shooting or hurricane. Professional counselors may find such disasters to be opportunities for resiliency and post-traumatic growth (Lambert & Lawson, 2013).
We know that through a crisis, opportunities appear. For instance, making difficult decisions as leaders allow for an organization's values and mission to be fulfilled in a meaningful way. Oftentimes, these crises highlight injustice and inequities that require systemic change. Counselors are well positioned through leadership and advocacy to be such change agents in challenging times.
The unit readings will provide trauma-informed, crisis leadership strategies for schools, clinical settings, professional organizations, and communities.
Lambert, S. F., & Lawson, G. (2013). Resilience of professional counselors following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Journal of Counseling & Development, 91, 261–268.
Eade, C. (Ed.). (1942). The unrelenting struggle: War speeches by the Right Hon. Winston S. Churchill (2nd ed.). Cassell.
Leadership and Advocacy in Times of Crisis
It's so clear that advocacy is so incumbent in the roles that we hold as counselors or counselor educators. I'm wondering about those critical moments or critical incidents, or dare we even say crisis. I'm wondering for each of you, how have you overcome crisis in your leadership or advocacy roles or coped with crisis in your leadership or advocacy roles?
So I think that there is a lot that can be said about a couple of real deep breaths, because I think that one of the things that I learned early in my career for counseling is that the temperature in the room or the environment in the room can escalate or deescalate and I can either join or refrain from joining with that kind of escalation. And I think that it takes practice, again, but it's important as a leader and important as an advocate to not join in on an escalation. And it's not always easy because if you have a vested interest and are strong in your opinion and standpoint, matter of fact, your inclination is to step forward and join in because we need to do something because this is an emergency and somebody could get hurt or something. Some bad policy is about to be created. And I have to stop it. And so there's urgency, lots of times comes with crisis. But in reflection, urgency on your part does not always create best practice or the right course of action.
So it's important that, I think, that in terms of being able to handle crisis, one of the best things that we can do as leaders and advocates is to not have an initial response that's instant. Even if it's just a piece of being able to take a couple of breaths, even if it's just to be able to survey the room and to say, "Okay, I need to be able to stand firm where I am and not run forward."
I mean, we need people to run forward, so I don't think that that is… it's not that it's a bad thing. It's just that if as the leader, you too are running forward, we don't have a sense of general oversight. And someone has to be calm and collected and see a bigger picture to be able to not run forward. And sometimes I think it's a matter of just a couple of really strong breaths. And I mean, as a true core counseling technique, but to be able to say, "I can be calm in the midst of this storm. Someone needs to be able to see past the storm. My role here is going to be different than roles that other individuals will need to take." Those would be my thoughts.
Thank you. One thing I'd like to add here is from a personal experience, actually two. And one was while serving as an officer in the Tennessee School Counselor Association, I was serving as an officer there during a piece of legislation that's become referred to as Don't Say Gay, and the legislation would have required any licensed educator, which includes school counselors, to notify parents if a child expresses, even questioning, their sexual orientation or gender identity.
And so of course that is an ethical violation in addition to just a really bad idea that could potentially create risk. And so that was one type of crisis that struck at a professional level. In addition to that legislation, a rider to the legislation was that school counselors would only engage in counseling for academic related issues, not for mental health issues or something towards that supported personal social development.
That legislation was eventually defeated. And another more recent example is here at Capella during the most recent COVID-19 health situation, which impacted, especially our Masters learners in their practicum and internships as their sites began to close. And we found a way forward and are continuing to find a way forward.
But the piece about how to overcome that, or how to sustain through that, my recommendation is to know that you're not alone and to find your crew. I know it's a bit of a cliche, but truly two or more heads are better than one. So in both that state example, it wasn't just incumbent upon me as an officer in the association, or even just the association. It was incumbent upon a lot of people who knew a lot about advocacy. Particularly about advocating against potentially harmful legislation. And in the COVID-19 example, many of them are on this call here, but a whole team of leaders and counselor educators came together to say, "What can we do that can help us find a way forward?" So I just encourage you to remember, you're not alone in this, surround yourself with people who can support you and lean in together.
That's such excellent advice. And understanding that crises are going to happen, right? Whether they're something that comes from the university or something that we, as a profession, are reacting to. Legislation or the school shooting, an entire university system closure, and how that impacts learners. There are just some big things that are out of our control on an individual level. And when you're in that leadership role, being aware that there's something that's going to happen, that allows you to step into the role of being proactive as opposed to reactive. And that's a really big shift that's incredibly helpful because then you can start thinking about what are the different plans in terms of when something happens, how will we react? Does that mean that you'll have everything figured out? Absolutely not because every situation is unique. But if you have the infrastructure in place to deal with those kinds of things, then it allows you to be more agile in your response to whatever that crisis might be.
So for instance, similar to what happened in Tennessee with the school counselors, there was another community counseling piece in terms of conscious cause legislation that was against, again, the code of ethics and in terms of how and who we could interact with. And so we decided to move an entire conference at the last minute because of our values in terms of wanting to make sure that counselors could be able to work with people in a way that was ethical, that was relying on evidence based practices and that was in the best interest of the client. That was not an easy decision. And when you're dealing with millions of dollars in terms of the outcome of decisions, it's a little daunting. But again, I think working collaboratively to come up with those discussions and deciding how to proceed is really important.
For COVID-19 in terms of canceling the conferences, 2020 conference, that was not as hard of a decision, even though we still risk losing millions of dollars of income that was not coming in from ACA, we had an insurance rider, which we don't know if that will cover it or not. But the health and wellbeing of our members and our staff are incredibly important. So that was a much easier decision to be able to say, "We absolutely can't do this. It's a health concern."
The other one, there was some people who wanted to stay in Tennessee and fight and be on the ground and have protests. And others wanted to make sure that people were safe. So there are conversations that have to take place to make these decisions and it's not in a vacuum. There are multiple facets that have to be taken into account. And one of the things that we haven't talked about in terms of who do we pull into this team, unfortunately, we do have to consider legal issues that are related, not just the ethical issues.
So as we make these decisions, how do we protect our students, our clients, our communities, our associations from any negative impact that might come from the decisions that we have to make in terms of the crisis. So it definitely has to be well thought out. But again, I really encourage folks to think about some of these scenarios on the front end, so that you're not caught off guard as a leader, that you're able to think about maybe how has this been handled in the past? What worked, what didn't work? What were some lessons learned? And how can we move forward in the future so that if there was something that happened… So for instance, if there's an incidence at a conference, how do we change our policy to make sure that that doesn't happen again? Or that we're not caught flat footed, to be able to deal with something?
So that's really lessons learned, I think, is really important as well, so that we can move forward and deal with the next crisis that's on the horizon. Because there's always something.
Leadership and Advocacy in Times of Crisis
Read the above panel discussion and complete the assigned article readings. For this discussion of 750 words – selected the following settings:
- higher education
Based on your anticipated career path, what is a potential crisis that may occur within that setting? Describe both a leadership and an advocacy strategy that you would implement in addressing that crisis. Be sure to include citations to support your proposed leadership and advocacy strategies.
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