Lisa German knows more than a little about working with her staff through a crisis. She was an associate dean at the Pennsylvania State University Libraries when the Jerry Sandusky scandal broke in 2011. She was the dean of libraries at the University of Houston when Hurricane Harvey hit Texas in 2017. And she had just begun her current role at the University of Minnesota when the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered the campus in March 2020, followed by George Floyd’s murder in the university’s hometown of Minneapolis. Here, German shares the commonalities and differences of those experiences, discusses her team’s approach to racial injustice, and offers internal communication advice for leaders in education.
You started working in your present role just a couple of weeks before everything shut down due to COVID-19. You had only begun to work with some staff and had not even met some of them, considering there are 13 libraries. In terms of leading this team, where did you begin?
I started on Feb. 28, 2020, and we all went home on March 17. I had a meet-and-greet, sort of an open session, before we came home. I had the opportunity to tour some of the libraries and meet with my leadership team. So, I was very grateful for that. When we all went home, the big thing I knew we needed to do was communicate. That was just so important.
We set up 11 a.m. town halls. We had them from the time we went home through all of August. Every day. Most every night, I would send a note to my staff, either talking about something from the 11:00 meeting or something else that was happening.
There are so many layers upon layers. There’s the pandemic, there’s racial injustice, there’s all sorts of education issues for our staff with children, there’s health issues (some of us have lost family members or friends to COVID), and the 2020 election as well. Our job as leaders is to guide folks as best and as clearly as we can.