My service in the Marine Corps as an intelligence analyst deployed to Iraq has afforded me a unique perspective on how to move forward amid uncertainty and imminent chaos. In preparing to go to war, I had to accept that I was not in control, reflect on my purpose in a new environment, understand my impact on others, empathize and hold out infinite hope.
Those experiences, without a doubt, have informed my leadership approach: acceptance, discovery, accountability, empathy and hope. Having spent years of my career working out plans to deal with worst-case scenarios, I find myself and my organization — the Foundation for Women Warriors — adapting along with the rest of the world amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Helping Women Warriors
Prior to COVID-19, our foundation focused on individual crisis and risk management for women veterans, providing critical intervention to enhance their personal and financial development. Simply put, we provide emergency stipends for rent, childcare, utilities and other essential basic needs, as well as professional development, all of which enhance the economic wellbeing of women veterans.
The economic wellbeing of these American heroes has recently been a topic of critical discussion on the national level. Last July I provided testimony on this topic to the House Committee of Veteran Affairs, and the Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity.
National legislation to assist women veterans currently hangs in balance, with uncertainty for the foreseeable future. But now, during the pandemic, our foundation’s mission is more important than ever. The impact on our veterans continues to grow. With 70% of them working single mothers, we are seeing a significant increase in financial need. We remain steadfast in providing our services. Sustaining our day-to-day supporting operations, however, has taken on a new set of challenges.
At a time when so many things seem out of our control, it can be tempting to recede into inactivity. Revisiting my leadership process, I’ve been forced to apply “radical acceptance.” In her book book Radical Acceptance, Tara Brach writes that “nothing is wrong—whatever is happening is just ‘real life.’” So our new environment of social distancing, economic downturn, and stay-at-home mandates, is simply the new reality. The foundation’s staff was instructed to work from home, in-person events were postponed or moved online, and our discovery phase began.
In light of our new reality, it became ever so important to understand all the challenges we could anticipate and discover the ways we could overcome them with the least amount of pain to our staff, our women veterans, and our community. We began weekly executive committee conversations, took a hard look at our cash position, considered internal and external contingencies, and weighed the impact on each one of our stakeholders. In this new environment, we engaged in deep and open conversations at every level of the organization about our strengths, weaknesses and the opportunities that lay ahead.
With new information in hand, it was time to take responsibility and make both critical and difficult decisions. We negotiated lower rental rates with our landlords, reduced what now seems like unnecessary spending, made the easy decision to cut my salary, and the difficult decision to reduce staff hours. And, in keeping our mission, as a women’s economic empowerment organization with an all-woman team, we made the right decision to not lay anyone off.
Everyone has been impacted one way or another, so empathy as individuals, leaders, communities and a country is needed for survival. Just last month, I received a call from a long-time monthly donor, who is also a veteran, asking to cancel her monthly donation. The pain in her voice was palpable as she apologized for not being able to donate any longer.
Her business, like many, has been significantly impacted by the necessary isolation and social distancing mandates. She is a successful veteran and a generous donor who has kept our lights on, and our veterans housed. Now she is in a situation in which she could be a candidate for one of our emergency stipends.
The Way Ahead
Foundation for Women Warriors is working with our board, community partners, and funding organizations as we rapidly adapt to the changing road ahead. We are drawing on our historic strength and resilience, as we are 100 years old, after all. We continue to connect our women warriors with critical and timely resources and are delivering up-to-date, geographically pertinent information to connect our veterans to services alleviating food insecurity, providing small business loans, and emergency stipends, as well as updated local community resources and guidance.
Perhaps this process can help you get through your current leadership challenges:
- Practice acceptance in this moment by saying the Serenity Prayer.
- Discover inspiration with a new documentary, book or meditation.
- Be accountable to yourself first. Prioritize your mental and physical health, make small and achievable goals, or simply monitor the amount of news you take in.
- Check in on someone you haven’t connected with in quite some time and understand everyone processes stress differently.
- And lastly, instill hope in your team. Leadership is a lighthouse in this dark night.
Jodie M. Grenier is a Marine Corps veteran and CEO of Foundation for Women Warriors in Carlsbad.