Leadership in Times of Crisis

October 12, 2020
Alumni share leadership challenges and strategies for this tumultuous year

Few would argue that 2020 has been one of the most tumultuous years in the last century. A global pandemic, racial and social unrest, and high rates of unemployment have roiled the country and disrupted the lives of ordinary Americans. Jepson School of Leadership Studies alumni Raegan Williams Morris, ’99, Greg Efthimiou, ’99, and Ken Anderson, ’17, ’L20, shared insights on the leadership challenges and opportunities during this historic time in “Leadership in Times of Crisis,” a webinar facilitated by Dean Sandra Peart on Aug. 31.

All three alumni emphasized the need for leaders to promote the common good, especially during times of crisis.

“There’s a tension between democracy and leadership when dealing with a large problem like a pandemic,” said Anderson, a recent graduate of the University of Richmond School of Law. “America is defined by individualism. At times we have lost a collective spirit that would help us fight this virus. If leaders could capitalize on the theme of unity, we could fight this virus more effectively.”

Efthimiou, head of internal communications and community relations at Honeywell, underscored the role of corporate responsibility and innovation in helping people and communities experiencing hardship. He pointed to the two million dollar philanthropy fund Honeywell created to help small businesses innovate and get back on their feet as one example.

He also stressed the need for leaders to maintain constant, transparent communications: “Keep your stakeholders informed. Make sure you’re telling the good stories that come out of the adaptations or responses to this crisis. That’s the antidote to the negativity about being in a protracted crisis such as we’re in right now.”

As the vice president of card customer experience at Capital One, Morris shared her experiences with transactional and transformational leadership.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, there were so many tactical issues,” she said. “We were moving thousands of agents from brick-and-mortar sites to remote work. But the greatest challenge has been leading an organization during a period of racial and social unrest.”

“I never thought I’d be openly talking about race in corporate America,” Morris said, describing this moment as an opportunity for transformational leadership. “I have led discussions on race that have been some of the most difficult discussions I have ever led.”

Whether dealing with challenges related to the pandemic, racial justice, or the economy, Peart affirmed the alumni’s calls for leadership for the collective good. “The University of Richmond is really stressing the notion that we’re one community—one web—and our actions affect the whole web. We are innovators, and I have enough optimism to think we will come through this.”

Watch the webinar. 

Photo, left to right: Raegan Williams Morris, Greg Efthimiou, and Ken Anderson