Nonreactive Leadership or, Leadership in a Time of Coronavirus

Dave Hills

Dave Hills

President, Leadership Foundations

It is in times like we find ourselves in today–with the COVID-19 pandemic on everyone’s mind–that many would say to Leadership Foundations,

“Cities as playgrounds?


They sure look more like

battlegrounds these days to me.”

With social distancing potentially making us see our neighbors as our enemies, and shelter in place orders breeding distrust and fear, it seems like our cities are becoming more like battlegrounds.

Counterintuitively, I believe that it is in times like these where this central metaphor of LF, Cities as Playgrounds, holds its greatest promise. In fact, this image of Cities as Playgrounds can remind us all of why going through a trauma like what we’re going through is even worthwhile.

So how do we live in a time of crisis like today? How do we lead?

I ultimately believe a time like this calls us to live and lead out of a place of freedom. In his second letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul simply says, “where the Spirit of God is, there is also freedom.” The movement of God is always drawing us toward a place of freedom- both interior and exterior freedom.

And by definition, being free, as a leader, means to engage in the world in a way that is non-reactive.

So here are three practical realities in which I believe non-reactive leadership can be lived out in our day-to-day lives:

1. Non-reactive Leadership is Characterized by a Non-Anxious Presence

You know leaders and you know that place in yourself that is so anxious to please the crowd in front of you, that place so eager for

the approval of others.

Leaders who are able to practice “non-anxious presence” recognize that they don’t require the approval of others.

They are clearly aware that their ultimate value comes from a source much deeper and unshakable–a source that is much different than the whims of the crowd.

2. Non-reactive Leadership Pivots From the Practice of Being Holy

A word that often holds too much religious baggage, the word “Holy” simply points to its relative with a ‘W’, “Whole.

When we see things as a whole, we see how they are connected to one another.

This then becomes our working assumption in leadership–that ALL things are connected. But the trick is, you can only see this interconnectedness from a nonreactive place.

3. Non-reactive Leadership Leads to an Eschatological – not Apocalyptic – Way of Seeing

Trappist monk Thomas Merton was known to make this distinction. When we see with Apocalyptic eyes, we are seeing in a way that is in response to what is right in front of us–in other words, reactively, out of fear for what we think the future holds.

When we see with Eschatological Eyes, we see with the eyes of hope. This doesn’t paper over the harsh realities we’re experiencing in our day-to-day lives, on our city streets or in our quarantined communities. But nonetheless we can imagine and envision hope in a way that brings our reality into sharper focus–that can envision the fullness of creation being within our reach.

It is in this place of non-reactivity, of freedom, that all of us can continue to see our communities as places of God’s deep hope and love. Even in times of crisis, God’s promise of our cities as playgrounds is there for us to live into.

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Celia Vigil

Communications Associate

What book, movie, quote, or tv show has most shaped your understanding of leadership or the city?   

A quote that has shaped my understanding of leadership and the city is, “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly now, love mercy now, walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

While the amount of work there is to do to transform cities is great, this quote reminds me that we are freed from having to complete it all, though our obligation to continue remains. We may never see a huge transformation in our lifetime. The work stretches far beyond us. However, this does not make our acts of faithfulness in the day to day less significant, no matter how small they may seem.