The Importance of Perspective in Times of Crisis: In Conversation with Leslie Motter

Whether economic stresses or the COVID pandemic, times of crisis befall people of all walks of life and organizations of all kinds. Whether personal or professional, challenging situations, big and small, can overwhelm you and cloud your vision, making you feel like there’s no path forward. What clears that path is adaptability and keeping perspective, which can even help you create a better path.

We’re in conversation with Leslie Motter, a strategic, results-driven C-level executive. With years of experience leading at American Express, Aetna, Prudential and Vanguard, she is an impact-driven connector, passionate about collaborating courageously, driving change and transformation, and making an impact. Currently, she serves as COO for Make-A-Wish America, helping the organization to grant life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses.

Leslie — in the midst of crisis or tough situations, how do you maintain perspective and navigate your way through the issues?

“I fully understood the importance of finding and maintaining perspective in tough situations. I have been asked by several colleagues who I mentored over the years about this topic. They would see me juggling the many components of my role, or having to make very difficult decisions and would ask how I was able to manage everything “without freaking out”. My advice to them (and everyone) is: if I’m facing several “crises” at the same time, then I take a moment to ask myself, ‘Will this be a crisis in six hours? What about in six days? In six months? Will this matter in six years?’

“Answering these questions allows me to assess the magnitude of a problem and curate a strategic and effective solution with perspective in mind. I’ve found that asking these questions is incredibly helpful to avoid getting overwhelmed in moments of crisis while still understanding the gravity of those situations. Finding the space to evaluate various aspects of a situation helps to prioritize what matters most.

“Maintaining perspective strengthens the understanding that a decision I make can greatly impact the organization’s brand, employees, customers, shareholders and various constituencies. If an urgent decision would result in, say, a significant reduction of employees in six months, then it needs thorough focus and attention. On the other hand, if an issue won’t be relevant in six days, then I evaluate whether it is worth the time, energy or money to solve.

“As the Chief Operating Officer of Make-A-Wish America, I experienced firsthand how the entire organization pivoted overnight at the beginning of COVID . Maintaining perspective and prioritization was required to create a smooth and effective approach to wish granting . The National Office quickly became hyper-focused on supporting our 59 chapters with guidance and resources needed and to ensure wishes could continue to be granted and the organization would continue to move forward while placing health and safety at the forefront of all of our decision-making.

“One key pivot was how we “discover” wishes with wish kids. Pre-Covid we typically had two individuals from MAW go into the family’s home to meet the wish kid and discover their wish, or the family would go to the chapter office. We could no longer follow that process with COVID, so we pivoted quickly in order to continue wish discovery. Thus, we moved to a virtual setting for wish discovery and connected with wish families and wish kids over the phone or through a video call.

“We also temporarily amended the types of wishes we could safely grant. For example, previously celebrity wishes were done in person and the wish family would travel to meet the celebrity or attend a sporting event. We swiftly moved to video calls for these wishes instead and we realized that these wishes could continue to move forward despite the pandemic. For many kids, this was very impactful because they have a recorded memory of their time with the celebrity to look back on forever.

“Our organization’s success during the challenging time of the pandemic stemmed from involving others in the decision-making process and in determining the appropriate path forward for the organization. Teamwork was vital in building the perspective we needed in order to make well-informed decisions, and we made it a priority to listen to and tap the expertise of others.

“To anyone overwhelmed or facing a crisis, I’d advise — we all have our own commitments, missions, and goals in work and life, and it’s important that you take care of yourself in addition to your priorities. You can’t give from an empty tank, so ensure that you fill your tank by showing self-compassion before tackling what lies ahead.”

Thanks for sharing, Leslie.

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