I recently met with a few leaders who, like myself, led organizations or ministries through the pandemic. We discussed how hard we had to push ourselves for over two years and how, even though most of our organizations performed well despite the crisis, the experience left many of us feeling burned out. Then, without taking a breath, we began talking about the oncoming recession.
As leaders, we don’t have the luxury of always anticipating good times; we have to continually be prepared for any possible tragedy. This is especially true when it comes to a recession; leaders must always be ready for one, not scramble when they begin to see one coming.
A recession is always bound to happen, and when it does, people will cling to either false optimism or overblown despair. Those on your team will most likely find themselves on those two extremes as well, but hope is not a strategy, and despair is not a solution. When leading your team through tough times, it’s vital to cultivate a balanced mindset that’s rooted in realism.
When it comes to finding a straightforward example of what it means to be good stewards and prepare well for future obstacles, I’ve looked to the story of Joseph in Genesis 41:33-36: “And now let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge of the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh appoint commissioners over the land to take a fifth of the harvest of Egypt during the seven years of abundance. They should collect all the food of these good years that are coming and store up the grain under the authority of Pharaoh, to be kept in the cities for food. This food should be held in reserve for the country, to be used during the seven years of famine that will come upon Egypt, so that the country may not be ruined by the famine” (NIV).
God gave Pharaoh a clear and practical plan to prepare for the famine, but it took wisdom, discernment, obedience, and willpower on Pharaoh’s and Joseph’s part to put it into practice. This story is also a great reminder that though God allows us to face obstacles, He gives us ways to overcome them if we have an open perspective to listen and adopt new strategies.
On a very practical level, leaders should follow in Joseph’s footsteps and create financial reserves—especially in seasons of abundance. Be sure to build those reserves into your budget.
Aside from the obvious hit finances receive during a recession, you should also build your organization’s culture on a strong and healthy foundation beforehand. A recession will really test the work culture, and it can make the whole structure crumble from within.
I recently read an article from The Jabian Journal titled “Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast and Transformation for Lunch” by Gokhan Guley and Tracy Reznik, which I recommend to anyone leading a team. In it, Guley and Reznik write, “Culture is the flywheel that maintains stability. It creates organizational inertia and resistance to change—both good and bad… A strong culture will help an organization survive bumps in the road. At the same time, it resists deliberate attempts by management to change speed and direction.”
Sometimes physical obstacles serve as critical reminders. I’ve had a chronic sore throat since January, and when I finally went to get it checked out, my doctor said I have legions and cysts on my vocal cords. He actually referred to it as “preacher’s disease” and said, “Based on your vocal cords, you must be pentecostal.”
Now, I’ve struggled with my eyesight for 33 years, so when I told Kim my prognosis, I said, “I always thought my eyes were my problem, but now I’m going to have to change how I use my voice.”
She very quickly responded, “Well, maybe you’re supposed to listen more.” Don’t you love an honest wife?
When it comes to building a strong work culture, listening is the most crucial step.
One thing we do at OneHope to help with our culture is conduct anonymous staff reviews every three years, which allows us to get a gauge of where the culture is going right and where we need to improve as leaders and as an organization. Doing this definitely takes a humble heart and a willingness to listen, but it’s an amazing way to understand your team’s experience.
However you decide to manage and improve the culture within your own organization, make sure you don’t wait until you’re in the midst of a recession and the culture is turning sour to do it.
When you’re in the middle of a recession, it’s crucial to be transparent with the other leaders and with your organization as a whole. Clarity is one of the most helpful assets during a difficult season. Abandon the strategies that are no longer good for your clarity, and be transparent and honest about the situation at hand. Once again, you don’t want to be overly optimistic when others may be hurting, but you also don’t want to feed into an overblown sense of despair when people are already scared. Lead with clarity, and be honest about the reality.
So, what are my thoughts on leading through a recession?
Don’t wait until one hits.
Prepare financially, build the culture on a strong foundation, and be transparent throughout it.