Words of wisdom for leaders battling the COVID-19 pandemic

Angela Blanchard is a globally recognized expert practitioner in community development, disaster recovery, and long-term integration for immigrants and refugees, as well as an award-winning crisis management leader. Blanchard shares words of wisdom from disasters for leaders who are battling the COVID-19 pandemic.
Written by Vala Afshar, Contributing Writer

A globally recognized expert practitioner in community development, disaster recovery and long-term integration for immigrants and refugees, Angela Blanchard was named by Fast Company magazine as Most Creative People in the Nation.

Angela Blanchard is a globally recognized expert practitioner in community development. From long-term disaster recovery, to effective integration of immigrants and refugees, Blanchard's breakthrough strategies have successfully revitalized neighborhoods, while providing a powerful road map for cities across the globe. Angela works with business, civic, and nonprofit leaders tackling complex challenges of community transformation. Blanchard has been profiled in numerous publications, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Atlantic. Fast Company magazine named her one of the Most Creative People in the Nation.

Her genuine reverence for people and her unique ability to bring them together in unprecedented ways have played a pivotal role in the growth and impact of BakerRipley, formerly known as Neighborhood Centers, Inc. Under Blanchard's leadership, BakerRipley has become the largest community development organization in Texas and among the top 1% of charitable groups nationwide. BakerRipley currently serves more than 500,000 people in over 50 counties with an annual budget of over $300 million.  

Blanchard's innovative, strength-based framework -- Appreciative Community Building -- has set the new standard for integrating diverse populations into thriving communities. In 2017, she was honored with the 22nd Heinz Award in the Human Condition category for creating a transformative model of community development that recognizes the inherent strengths of the people residing in low-income and immigrant communities.  

"Seeing people come in having very little, and then helping them find a way to recreate a new life out of their own imagination—that is the most riveting thing on earth to me." -- Angela Blanchard 


Angela Blanchard and former President Obama at the White House

I first met Angela at the Business Innovation Factory (BIF) Summit in 2014. We both had the privilege of being storytellers at this extraordinary conference. The title of Angela's keynote was "You Can't Tweet Change." I instantly knew that Angela Blanchard was a brilliant business leader, compassionate CEO, a wonderful humanitarian and a brilliant storyteller. Since then, I have also had the honor to serve on the same board of directors with Angela, giving me the opportunity to learn from her shared wisdom, authenticity, and compassion. 

Angela is also a social leader, often speaking, blogging, mentoring and sharing her thoughts about crisis management and disaster recovery. You can follow Angela's work on Twitter at @CajunAngela. During this incredible pandemic, Angela and I have been sharing thoughts on Twitter, often via direct messages (DMs). Angela is often at the forefront of guiding and leading communities during difficult and often unimaginable times.

Here is Angela's wisdom from disasters that she has pinned on our Twitter page: 

'The human spirit is not extinguishable'

  1. No one is coming. We must move at the speed of need. Don't wait. Work. 
  2. You may not be at fault, but you're responsible. This disaster chose us. We must own it.
  3. You can't build on broken. Pay attention to the strength, skills, and aspirations of those around you. Build on those.
  4. Do what you can with what you have, where you are. Right now.
  5. There is nothing more powerful than a family, company, community in tough with its own aspirations and principles. Revisit the principles that will guide your decision making as you move through this unprecedented period. 
  6. Allow everything that is not destructive. Especially art, music, and dance. Even in disaster, people need joy.
  7. Isolation is a breeding ground for rage and despair. We may be physically distant, but we must remain spiritually, emotionally, socially connected. Connect today.
  8. At every milestone, there will be gratitude and grief in equal measure. Even as we recover, we will also see what has been lost. Allow gratitude and grief to reside in your heart together. 
  9. Practice loving detachment. Others may not behave as would want. We learn not to react to panic and fear, even as we manage our own. 
  10. There is enough to go around. Act as if it's true. 
  11. When you come to the fork in the road, between resignation and acceptance, take the path of acceptance. No whining. 
  12. People can survive individually, but they thrive collectively. Place your faith beyond survival. 
  13. Leaders practice "When I know, you know it." People can handle the truth. We unravel when we are forced to play detective in a disaster. If you want people to follow you, you don't have to be certain, but you must be transparent. 

I absolutely love Angela's wisdom from disasters. In my experience, strong leaders know where and how to position themselves in good and bad times. In a crisis, you lead from the front. In a celebration, you lead from the back. Only the very best leaders know the importance of this practice. This is the time for forgiveness, courage, empathy, unselfish generosity, honesty and love. The video below is a great example of how strong leadership and the power of the togetherness, based on wisdom above, helped the Houston community recover after horrific disasters. 

Another one of my favorite life and leadership lessons from Angela was capture in her beautiful and brief essay on Time.  

"Time haunts those of us working to nurture the world into a more caring place. Time rules us as we work for fairness, justice and kindness.  If we care deeply about alleviating unnecessary human suffering, we find ourselves stretched on a rack between a painful "now" and a hopeful "when." I've come to believe that the real test of leadership is the ability to live there — in between — never letting go." -- Angela Blanchard

I encourage you to connect and learn more with Angela Blanchard on Twitter

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