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Thinking Strategically In A Crisis

Updated: Jan 8, 2021

A ship in harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.

John A. Shedd, “Salt from My Attic” (1928)

As has been the case for all of us, Miranda Hawkins’s vision for her year as CWBA President was thrown a massive curve ball when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. She had been developing a vision for the CWBA long before she was elected President, but the changes wrought by governmental responses to the novel coronavirus, as well as state and national social upheaval, have forced Miranda to pivot numerous times as she steers our organization forward.

During times of significant change, it is natural for us to respond in any number of unproductive ways, like throwing up our hands because planning seems futile or burying our heads in the sand with the hope it will all just go away. However, as the leader of a bar association, Miranda could not take those approaches. She had to adapt the CWBA’s strategies to the New Normal and bring us all on board with her vision so that we can all move forward together and Lead Beyond.

To that end, Miranda consulted some outside resources and explored her own beliefs and habits to refine her philosophy on strategic thinking. During our August Board meeting, Miranda shared the following thoughts about how to think strategically during a crisis.


1. Make time to think strategically

It is important to understand the difference between strategy and tactics. Strategy is an overarching plan or set of objectives. Changing strategies is akin to turning around an aircraft carrier — it can be done but not quickly. Tactics are the specific actions or steps you undertake to accomplish your strategy. During times of crisis, it is natural to focus on day to day demands because we are wired for survival reasons to respond to emergencies as they present themselves. Consequently, we spend a lot of time thinking tactically. But it’s imperative that we reserve time to work on the overall objectives — we have to devote time to things that are important, even though they may not seem urgent.

Every crisis presents new opportunities, so although the pandemic naturally forced the CWBA to make a lot of tactical decisions, it also enabled us to reevaluate our strategic objectives in response to the changing needs of our members.

2. Now is the time to experiment

In uncertain times it is better to try something new than to do nothing. In embracing the all-online format for meetings and events, many Board members were concerned that we would lose out on the interactive qualities of membership that so many of us value. But our adoption of online programming has proven the opposite to be true, and now we have members joining events virtually who may never have been able to participate in the past because of geographic, financial, or time constraints. I, personally, have been able to connect with longtime members I had never met before, and my connection with the membership as a whole has a broader view.

3. Stay nimble and avoid rigid thinking

When conditions change, we have to adjust our mindsets and be open to new possibilities and ideas. Under quarantine, it is simply not an option to continue operating as usual. In addition to online events, we have had to re-think our entire community service and fundraising strategies. The result has been that we are now able to serve a larger number of community organizations and (fingers crossed!) raise more direct funding for our legal services partners.

4. Don’t shy away from tough decisions

The CWBA budget is the perfect example of this. We had to make tough decisions when we worked on the budget for the upcoming year. The budget is designed to support the CWBA’s Strategic Plan, so we had to figure out how to further our mission with reduced resources. By examining the budget line by line, we also got to consider each of the activities and functions that drive the budget, which enabled us to have high level discussions about where the organization is headed and what we value most.

5. Continue to build resilience

Resilience means adapting well in the face of stress, trauma, or adversity and recovering from failure. Building resilience doesn’t happen overnight. It is a process. — the key word is “build.” Being strategic leaders means we might make a few missteps, but if we fall down seven times, it doesn’t matter as long as we get back up after each fall. And each time, we stand up better equipped to face future challenges. This is true at the individual and organizational levels.

It is true that ships were not built to stay safe in the harbor, and it is equally true that rough seas make great sailors. As we continue to navigate these tumultuous times, it is comforting to know that our captain is firmly at the helm and that our crew is all on board as we strategically sail beyond.


Almira Moronne is an Associate at Davis Graham & Stubbs LLP and serves on the CWBA Board as a Co-Chair of the CWBA Legal Services Committee.

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