Home Coronavirus Being a Leader Amidst Uncertainty

Being a Leader Amidst Uncertainty

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New installation of a wooden GRCC wall on the 4th floor of Raleigh J. Finkelstein Hall. (Breegan Petruska/The Collegiate)

By The Collegiate Staff

An integral part of a campus community is the leaders that direct, guide and support the rest of us. The Collegiate spoke with a few Grand Rapids Community College leaders to understand their individual struggles, hard leadership lessons and how their leadership techniques going forward will be affected by the challenges of a year-long pandemic.

Bill Pink

Grand Rapids Community College President 

President Pink in his office on campus.

“The importance of rest and revitalization has continued to haunt me! To lead an institution in non-pandemic days has its own challenges, but to add a pandemic to the mix…THAT is a real challenge! I am continually reminded by my body that I need to get rest and refresh regularly. The stress of the day should not be ignored or underestimated. I have been reminded that although the reduction in social activity has had a bit of positive benefit, I am a person who thrives on interaction. My leadership thrives on interacting with people, and I look forward to re-engaging our campus community as well as our West Michigan community. I will continue to focus on the lessons learned when in crisis. We need to make sure we are not so eager to get back to “normal” as we dig out of this pandemic. We need to take the things we’ve changed, professionally and personally, and ask ourselves if those changes are indeed worth keeping as we go forward. Many of them are!”

Brian Knetl

Grand Rapids Community College Provost 

Provost Knetl in his office on campus.

“I have always been a person who has been comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity, but this brought it to a whole new level. I really needed to be able to not feel the impulse or the urge to provide immediate answers. In addition to always being comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity, I always wanted to try and help people as much as I could and provide them with the support they needed. There were just times when I couldn’t do that. I wanted to – and I hope I did a good job – support deans, faculty and the students by reaching out and communicating. My desire to ‘solve the problem’ and provide answers, I just couldn’t do that. As a new leader at the time this happened, I had to find ways to come to terms with not having the answers that people were looking for. Fortunately, in the midst of that people were showing a lot of grace and patience which helped me get through it all. As a leader you, not only want to provide comfort, you want to provide answers, you want to provide guidance. With things changing so dramatically, it was difficult to do that. I had to start to get comfortable with a whole other level of uncertainty. I always recognize that my comfort level with ambiguity did not always match that of everyone else, but I needed to, as a leader, do better to communicate and reach out. Even if it was to say, ‘we just don’t know.’ Saying that as a leader though, is tough, but it became important to not focus as much on the solutions and the answers and to just provide information. It became important to be present.”

Felix Pereiro

Business Department Head

Faculty headshot of Pereiro.

I think that the volume of work following the pandemic for the business department and for me is quite heavy because as we’ve evolved as a college, there’s been more and more work put on department heads and program directors. The volume of work and meetings greatly increased and everything that I’ve done in my life prepared me for it: working at small medium and large companies and then for years doing start-ups, and starting my own businesses, so it kind of got me accustomed to putting structure to an unstructured, ever-changing environment. God is here to help. My faith is very important to me, so I leaned into that. We as human beings are created to be very adaptable and resilient and the things that I really learned about myself is that all the challenges and adversity that I’ve faced in my life, both personal and professional, over the many decades, and even at the college, basically prepared me for that moment. Nobody wanted COVID-19. Nobody wanted to go through this. But you still have to run the business and the organization.  I was very comfortable remaining calm and saying “this is a challenge” and I love challenges. While many are uncomfortable dealing with the unknown, because I was an entrepreneur, the unknown became my friend. My leading philosophy has always been servant leader. People don’t work for me, I work with people. Each and every faculty member, each and every adjunct faculty member, my staff, my support person, we work alongside each other. Moving forward, that is really the only leadership style that is going to work in a very fast-moving changing environment.”

Lina Blair

Director of Student Life and Conduct

Courtesy photo of Blair.

“I think the biggest (lesson) has been, when there is something that is the right thing to do, learning to not let all of the details bog you down. If you need to make a good decision, do what you can to get people on board to do the right thing, don’t get bogged down by the process, and just make it happen. It’s important to make sure that I stay in touch with my needs and take care of myself so that I can help others the best way possible. I’ve also learned a lot about my own ability to help people understand some things and getting other people invested in the work. Also making sure that I spend time finding different ways to have fun and connect with friends. I think there’s probably a good balance moving forward of appropriately working in teams and committees to get things done but also being faster to respond to what students need. We can make fast and good decisions if we need to and it’s not about not including people in the decision, but nudging things forward if we know it is the right thing to do.”