Lessons in Leadership: What Two Faith Students Have Learned through Crisis
April 24, 2020
At the beginning of the 2019-20 school year, Rebecca Sturgis wrote a chapel quote on a 3×5 index card:
“The same God who leads you in is the same God who will lead you out.”
The quote was from board member and guest speaker Michael Blackstone, who was challenging students to endure trials in the wake of the death of a classmate, and the lack of a useable gymnasium for chapel and volleyball. No one knew it at the time, but those trials at the beginning of the fall semester were a foreshadowing of how the year would end, and that quote would be one that Rebecca would lean on as a Resident Assistant (RA) just as much at the end of the year as she did at the beginning.
On Sunday, March 15, 2020, word spread that classes would be concluding on campus shortly after students returned from Spring Break. The news left dorm leaders like Rebecca Sturgis and Katlyn Holaday shocked and thrust them into unfamiliar territory as leaders during a crisis. The following are just a few of the valuable lessons they have learned about crisis management as young leaders.
The importance of taking care of yourself first, mentally and spiritually
When Katlyn Holaday heard the news that the coronavirus was ending the semester prematurely, she knew she had to get her own emotions and spiritual condition in check before she could effectively help girls under her care. It was kind of like the pre-flight oxygen mask instructions given by a flight attendant, who stresses the importance of securing your own mask before attempting to help others.
“Sunday morning, I got the email on my way to church that classes were going online the rest of the year,” said Katlyn. “After church, I just needed to take some time by myself to think it all through. I knew I would have to be mentally prepared to walk back into the dorms and be a leader. I knew I had to have my heart attitude in the right place before I could interact with others and not make the situation worse.”
Rebecca responded similarly, making sure her focus was on Christ and not on her own strengths.
“I found myself going to God’s Word to specific passages that I find comfort in,” said Rebecca. “Just being able to take care of my heart first before I interacted with others was important.”
Treasure every moment
The announcement that classes were ending on campus came like a thief in the night. Before students left for Spring Break, no one could have imagined how fast the world would change in the course of a week. It was a solid reminder for young and old alike that we never know what tomorrow will hold, and that we have taken the normal routines of life, church, school, and friendship for granted.
“Saying goodbye to everyone was hard,” said Katlyn. “There were a lot of people we would have liked to have one last, long conversation with.”
Katlyn is from Massena, Iowa, and went from sharing laughs and devotions with her girlfriends back to her home where she would have to find a way to share bandwidth with two other brothers who would also be finishing the semester online.
The journey home for Rebecca isn’t quite as convenient as Katlyn’s. Her home state of Georgia was too far to travel since she is training to be a Contender at Iowa Regular Baptist Camp this summer (Lord willing). She is living with her sister, Laura, in the Des Moines area so she can meet up with her Contenders teammates as frequently as possible. Like Katlyn though, her memories of an abrupt ending to the school year still sting.
“The last chapel on Monday night hit me really hard, listening to the chorale sing and listening to the testimonies of the seniors,” said Rebecca.
How athletics has helped build leadership in crisis situations
Both Katlyn and Rebecca participate in athletics at Faith: Katlyn as a star runner in cross country, and Rebecca as a goalie on the women’s soccer team that finished third in the nation last fall. Both recognize the role athletics played in their abilities to lead during a time of crisis.
“Katlyn knew how to pace herself as a cross country runner so she could cross the finish line well, said Sandra Capon, Dean of Women at Faith. “And Becky is a great team player, like on the soccer field. She is looking for ways to serve, even at a moment’s notice, and she always gives it her best shot. Becky is very loving and is ready with a big hug for that girl who could use some encouragement at that moment.”
Katlyn recalled her experiences with teammates and remembering that there’s no “I” in the word team in her approach to the coronavirus crisis.
“I think being an athlete has helped to teach me how to lead, even when things get difficult and I don’t feel like leading,” said Katlyn. “It’s very easy for me to get self-centered and think about how I am doing in practice or how the race went for me, but athletics has taught me that it is not about me. It’s about building others up and glorifying God with the abilities He has given me. It’s about keeping those things the priority, even when life gets tough for me personally.”
Rebecca has treasured the lessons her coaches have taught her during her soccer career at Faith. She has put some of their teachings about humility, having the right perspective under pressure, and glorifying God into practice during this time in her life.
“Our team’s theme song from last year has been a really great reminder to me that even when the ‘night is dark, I am not forsaken,'” said Rebecca. “As Coach Katie recently reminded our team, while our circumstances are out of our control, we control what we focus on and who we turn to.”
The importance of staying calm under pressure, but real about your feelings
One of the things that Rebecca and Katlyn learned during this time of crisis is that it’s ok to be scared, even if you are a leader of people. They learned the significance of staying calm under pressure, but that it’s good to let people know that you empathize with how they are feeling.
“I learned how important it was to be honest with people about my feelings,” said Rebecca. “To let them know it was hard for me too, but to point them back to God’s Word, was important.”
Realize you don’t have to have all the answers
One of the hardest challenges for leaders across the world during this time of the coronavirus is having answers for people. One of the biggest things Katlyn and Rebecca have learned through the process of leading during a crisis is that you don’t have to have all the answers.
“As a RA, during the year, people come to me with a lot of questions, mostly regarding things happening on campus or rules, things I know about and can give a clear answer for,” said Rebecca. “Now, all the questions are about things that I myself do not know the answer to, and it has forced me to rely on what I know about God and trust Him through the unknowns even more than before.”
Whether you are a parent attempting to answer difficult questions about the coronavirus to a child, or a pastor, trying to give answers to someone who has lost their job or a loved one, Katlyn’s approach is one we can all learn from:
“I’ve taken a couple of people to Psalm 77,” said Katlyn. “The psalmist is distraught and is asking, ‘why?’ In the end, he doesn’t get an answer, but he does come back to who God is. We don’t have an answer to why all these things are happening, but we do know who our God is, that He is in control and that we can go to Him and find comfort.”
Remain flexible and adjust to new norms
Students at Faith have shown resiliency all year with difficult situations, and the willingness to be flexible when it’s uncomfortable—like our volleyball team, who had to play every game at a high school this year due to the lack of a gymnasium.
“We’ve been through a lot of hard things together this year,” said Katlyn. “It seems like it was one thing after another this year, but they were growing moments for everyone. Even in how we interact in our relationships, we have been reminded how precious they are.”
The switch to all online courses was an adjustment for students at every college and university. Rebecca states that, while it wasn’t her first preference, the change has gone well. She thought it would be easier to get work done, but the new norm of not being around other students has thrown an unexpected challenge into her normal routine of mixing social time and study time.
“Not being able to break up school work with hanging out with friends or spontaneous interactions with other people has made school work harder to focus on because I feel sometimes like it is all I do,” said Rebecca.
The importance of communication
Both Rebecca and Katlyn have made extra efforts to stay connected to their peers. But both agree that while technology is great, they would much rather be together on campus with their friends.
“Because of technology, it is super easy to send a quick message to someone to check up on them and there are a variety of platforms to stay connected through,” said Rebecca. “But texting just isn’t the same as a face to face conversation, and I really miss seeing my girls every day.”
Katlyn has learned that communicating during times of crisis is challenging and that every person has their own unique way they are coping with the coronavirus pandemic. It has taught her that you need to be ready to communicate in different ways to different people.
“One thing I learned about leading during a crisis is that everyone responds differently and you have to be ready to recognize that and meet people where they are at,” said Katlyn. “For some, it is a hard life change that is creating many unknowns, and they need comfort and guidance, while others may be more excited about the change and want to celebrate. I think it is similar to learning to weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn. People respond differently, but it is important for me as a leader to be encouraging and point them to the truth that we do know about the situation and the truth about our unchanging, faithful God who is in control of the situation.”
The importance of godly mentors
Last, but certainly not least through the coronavirus chaos, Katlyn and Rebecca have learned the value of having wise and godly mentors that have helped train them for such a time as this. Many of their leadership qualities were forged under the tutelage of Sandra Capon during their three years at Faith. It’s all part of the discipleship culture at Faith, and it is crisis situations like this that show the fruits of those labors.
“I encourage our girls to ‘walk worthy,’ from Colossians 1:10,” said Sandra. “Both Katlyn and Becky do just that. They are godly, growing leaders at Faith Baptist Bible College, not only in their athletic fields but in the dorms. I am privileged to serve and minister alongside them.”
Rebecca Sturgis is a Biblical Studies major at Faith, with an emphasis in Biblical Counseling. She is set to graduate next May. Katlyn Holaday is an Elementary Education major and is also set to graduate next May. Both are hopeful to return to campus as seniors at Faith this fall.