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Preparing for the Unknown: Steps to Take Before the Next Crisis

On March 12, 1933, U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt began his first of 20-some fireside chats simply stating, “I want to talk for a few minutes with the people of the United States about banking.”

Roosevelt faced a bone-crushing economic depression that caused distrust in and the failure of the American banking system. Here sat a patrician New Yorker in what was, at the time, a virtual living room—the family radio—in many homes across America, taking with people who had been dispossessed of their farms, homes, and jobs, in many cases; talking to ordinary people.

Certainly, the novel coronavirus pandemic that befell most private clubs across the globe provided the same existential crisis that FDR faced at that fateful time. Can we make it? What should we do? On whom can we depend?

While the pandemic may have subsided, club leaders need to be prepared for the next crisis before it occurs. Six steps that serve private club leaders well are:

  1. Know the facts. Make yourself a primary source of facts. Do the homework. Ask the questions others will ask. If you do not know the answer, find it. In crises, people gravitate to leaders who have used their resources to collect and curate information for everyone’s good. Mayor Rudy Giuliani was that leader after 9/11: informed and accessible.
  2. Establish a course of action. In tough times, setting a dependable course of action is difficult. Successfully establishing a course of action that promises to achieve desired results requires that one has gathered a tremendous amount of information from knowledgeable and experienced individuals whose professional credentials indicate subject-matter reliability. This is no time for opinions. Find the people who know the subject and talk with them. Those who are most effective in selecting a trustworthy course of action have prepared in advance by knowing and understanding the club’s bylaws, building trusted and mutually respectful relationships within the boardroom and having a solid grasp of the club’s financial condition and limitations.
  3. Say what you will do and mean it. In crafting the action plan, set timelines and expected results that can arise from the plan. Communicate plainly and do not speculate.
  4. Do what you say. Be impeccable with your word and words. When distressed and distracted, members tend to hear only parts of your messaging so be redundant using multiple types of media. Set deadlines and meet them. Set objectives and exceed them. Do not overpromise.
  5. Communicate in one voice. Before you begin to communicate with your members and staff, you must take the time to ensure that all club leaders, including board members and department managers, are trained to respond with the same answers to the same questions. Speaking in one voice is crucial to delivering the facts each and every time.
  6. Communicate continuously. The medium of the day for Roosevelt was radio and print newspapers for the most part. Today’s servant leaders have a more impactful arsenal of communication tools and media. The key is to use them with the same steadfastness as FDR.

Recognize the impact of in-person chats with small groups of members to remind all involved that you have shared interests and concerns. Face- to-face remains the most productive approach for private club communica- tions but in instances when swift responses are necessary, text messages, email and/or updates on your website may be the most effective methods.

Countless lessons are learned when managing through crisis, but the most important lesson is that good results require time for others to observe and evaluate. Poor results are immediately evident. The effect of the president’s conduct during crisis was measured by one mourner greeting the funeral train that bore his casket into Washington’s Union Station when a reporter asked, “Why are you here? Did you know Franklin Roosevelt?” The mourner replied: “No, I did not know President Roosevelt, but he knew me.”