Forbes, August 12, 2020 Five Questions Mission-Based Leadership Must Answer in Times of Crisis by Richard F. Burns, President, CEO & Trustee, NHPF
I once thought the worst six months of my life were spent in army basic training. I thought it would never end. But it did, and I went from struggling to run 100 yards to running a six-minute mile on a dirt track in army boots. I’ve also weathered the multitude of crises the affordable housing industry has experienced during my tenure as CEO
of the information, it is too late to make a decision. From the top down, leaders ought to assign staffers sectors from which to gather all relevant information and share it with decision-makers. In an affordable housing organization, this includes tasking your finance department to constantly maintain financial planning; developers to continue creating new housing despite difficulties; advocacy colleagues to provide information about impactful developments in Treasury, Congress and industry; and of great importance, asset managers and resident services coordinators, “boots on the ground,” to provide intelligence about resident issues from rent payment hardships to racial injustice. With so much information on hand, a housing organization can be highly effective, keeping partners in the loop and residents from eviction. Despite the constraints of quarantine, I urge consistent communication. 2. Are you taking calculated, necessary risks Maimonides famously said, “The risk of a wrong decision is preferable to the terror of indecision.” Our focus is keeping housing affordable for underserved Americans, but whatever your mission-critical is, leaders must move forward decisively in today’s risky environment. Armed with real-time feedback, critical thinking and dialogues with valued industry colleagues, companies in affordable housing or any other development must keep their pipelines moving forward. For us, it is crucial to continue providing vital affordable housing during these uncertain times. Being sensitive to health needs by utilizing extra precautions, we have successfully relocated residents, made property improvements, continued ground-up construction and secured more affordable housing financing. We are also planning our fourth highly regarded annual Symposium this October. Like many organizations, we have calculated the risks and are excited to pivot this in-person event to a virtual convening. To anyone in the planning stages of their own event, it is reassuring to note that top-notch speakers and sponsors agree that maintaining informative industry events is critical. 3. Can you effectively lead and get out of the way? Confident leadership in setting the tone and direction for an organization is just as important as acknowledging the strengths of individuals throughout that organization. For example, virtual weekly staff calls run by the staffers with something to report— very little hierarchy—allows leaders to stay informed and get to know each other better. This type of reporting boosts teamwork.
Richard F. Burns
of The NHP Foundation: economic downturns, natural disasters, less-than-optimal government programs, detrimental policy shifts and more. None of these situations compares, however, to the dual crises of Covid-19 and the ugly effects of racism and social injustice we now face. The stakes for a not-for-profit, mission-based organization like ours, which provides housing for low- and moderate-income seniors and families, mostly people of color, are perhaps higher and different in this environment. Our actions and reactions must consider a wide variety of stakeholders who need to feel that their voices are heard and their needs met. Mission-based housing organizations are held accountable by both funding partners who need to see continuous safety and profitability in the developments in which they have invested, and residents who need to see compassionate investment in their well-being, quality of life and ability to stay housed. Add to that the need for compliance with numerous state and federal agencies and the ability for employees to feel secure in their jobs. The task of running a mission-based business successfully while meeting the needs of each constituency falls on the CEO, but without a highly competent team of professionals who understand how to balance the need for financial success while providing housing safe, clean, affordable housing, it would be impossible. Over the last four months I have tried to lead our organization with strength and compassion. And as we look ahead to whatever the coming days may bring, I find that answering these questions may provide lessons for not-for-profit and for-profit businesses alike. 1. Are you well-informed and keeping critical audiences informed? Colin Powell once said that if you have less than 40% of the information, it is not enough to make a decision. If you have 70%
I also encourage others to form working groups to address important, topical issues such as racism and social injustice.
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