Yes! Now is the Time to Move Forward. YOU can Engage People.

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Presently, ISPD is running a survey that is seeking input from Catholic leaders all over the country. If you have not taken it, then please do so. Here is the link:

One of the questions in the survey is: How would you rate the level of confidence you have today about the immediate future of your Catholic school and/or parish? Here are the percentages thus far:

  • 43%     Very confident that we will prevail.
  • 22%     Somewhat confident that we will prevail.
  • 26%     Somewhat worried that we will prevail.
  • 9%       Not at all confident that we will prevail.

Quite interesting. Since March 2020, ISPD has received over 2,500 responses from Catholic leaders in the U.S. – through six surveys, eleven Monday Cohort Sessions, nine Friday Zoom sessions, and three June On-Line Courses with over 200 students (pastors, presidents, principals, development/advancement directors, enrollment management/admission directors, etc.) participating. We have seen the 65% who are very confident or somewhat confident. They are surging ahead – even though they don’t know exactly what lies ahead. Yes, they are building their bridge while they walk on it, and they are inviting others to walk alongside them. They are the leaders that John Maxwell (and others) talk about with these “truisms” below:

  • Leadership transforms crisis into opportunity.
  • True leaders bring clarity to uncertain times.
  • Faith, Fear, and Focus. Faith expands focus while fear diminishes it.
  • People follow the eyes of a leader; people follow his/her focus.
  • Leadership exposes character; crisis reveals who we really are.
  • Greatness is always uphill. No one falls uphill. True leadership needs a Team of Climbers.
  • Jesus not only said “Follow me” but also “Walk with me.”
  • The Pandemic: This is a time to bring value.
  • Your best today is the floor for tomorrow.

The 65% move forward. It is the 35% that need our encouragement, our motivation, our direction, our prayers, and our “nudge.”

I would like to share two wonderful success stories of two Catholic schools who are definitely in that top 43% bracket. Overbrook School (coed Catholic elementary school) and St. Cecilia Academy (all-girls Catholic secondary school), both governed by The Dominican Sisters of the St. Cecilia Congregation in Nashville, TN., began a strategic planning process back in the fall of 2019. With both schools being on the same campus, one Executive Committee (8 people) was formed; two Steering Committees were formed (15-18 people on each); and each school enlisted and formed 7-8 Planning Area Teams (approximately 10-15 people on each team) centered around four domains:

  • Building Communities of Catholic Faith
  • Campus Organization
  • Academic Excellence
  • Operations

ISPD has had the pleasure of working with both schools.

From October 2019 – March 2020, these teams met on campus. Each team was charged with the following:

  • Learn more about their Domain and their Planning Area;
  • Complete a SWOT (Strengths—Weaknesses—Opportunities—Threats) Study in their Planning Area;
  • Create a Purpose Statement for their Planning Area;
  • Create 6 or less Challenges beginning with the language, “How can we . . . ?”
  • Create 1-3 Strategic Solutions for each Challenge;
  • Identify people not directly involved with the school to invite to a Convocation in order to receive objective input and perspective.

Everything was sailing along, and then COVID-19 came calling. All activity stopped. It all froze for 2-3 weeks. Then, on April 2nd, we met with the Executive Committee and the two Steering Committees via three Zoom sessions – all in one evening. The questions were on the table: What do we do? Do we stop everything and wait several months? How can we move forward when we can only meet virtually? What if people do not want to continue like that? How important is this planning? Excellent questions! The result was: FULL STEAM AHEAD! Even with the doubt, even with the hesitancy, even with the looks of uncertainty. What did John Maxwell say? “Leadership exposes character; crisis reveals who we really are.”

From April until the end of May, in the midst of the worst daily news this country was receiving, Planning Area Teams met, Steering Committee member facilitated, and the Executive Committee provided direction. The two principals — Sister Anna Laura O.P. (St. Cecilia Academy) and Sister Julia Marie O.P. (Overbrook School) — along with the Strategic Growth Plans’ coordinator Sharon Huber, kept the week to week activities moving forward, always in a positive direction. All meetings were done virtually via Zoom.

The last major input activity of this process was the Convocation. This gathering of 50-100 people allows people with objectivity to come, join a small discussion group, focus on 3-5 Challenges, and then offer strategic solutions. The Convocation is one of the most important components of the process, because it allows for objective input. For these two schools, this was a challenge. How were we going to pull off an evening Convocation with 50-100 people each night? Well, indeed, greatness is always uphill.

With outstanding leadership from the Executive Committee, the two Steering Committees, and a wonderfully patient technology guru named Christopher Rand, the two Convocations – one on a Wednesday evening from 6-8 PM and the other on a Thursday evening from 6-8 PM – went off without a hitch. Between 80-90 people participated each night! All were assigned to small groups; all helped solve the challenges; all evaluated the experience and gave it high marks, and we achieved what we set out to do: build these faith communities through the meaningful engagement of people. In two nights, these two Catholic schools engaged close to 200 people who shared their best wisdom and became “walking billboards” of excitement for Overbrook School and St. Cecilia Academy.

Yes! You can do it! You can reach out and engage people. There are so many ways. For me, the two statements I hear that make me cringe the most during these times are, “We’re just going to put that planning process/people engagement process on hold for now.” And, “Nobody is going to want to help with this.” Nothing could be further from the truth; now is the time to invite and engage; people do want to be part of the solution, not the problem.

Finally, one thought.

Years from now, when people ask, “Who were the shapers and leaders of our Catholic institutions back in those times? Who were the ones who led their flock out of the darkness and into light?” Who will they say?

Years from now, who will people point to as the true leaders in these times and say, “Like Jesus taught us, they not only said ‘Follow me’ but they also said ‘Walk with me’. The answer to those questions should be YOU!

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