97% in 144 Hours

Twice a week for six weeks, Ryan McFarland sat 6 feet apart from 10 of his colleagues at Tyson Foods Inc., in Portland. The maintenance supervisor of 13 years could have been assigning repairs or coordinating equipment inspections, but instead, he talked about communication challenges, dove into management exercises, and even tackled homework.

“One lesson I have brought back to my team is that not all criticism is bad or negative. I also learned new ways to encourage people to come talk to me when there is an issue, so we can work together to figure out a positive way to handle the situation,” McFarland said.

“Since the training, my team is working together more and talking things out. Training leads and well as supervisors helped tremendously because it means we are now speaking the same language at different levels of management.”

60 Employees, 144 Hours, All Zoom

McFarland was among 60 employees who engaged a total of 144 hours — or 45 hours per employee — of leadership training for supervisors and front-line leads at the plant, which makes flour and corn tortilla, chips and flatbread. Muncie nonprofit Shafer Leadership Academy provided the training, thanks to a workforce grant facilitated through Eastern Indiana Works.

The hybrid virtual and in-person experience was the largest training SLA has facilitated in its 14-year history of providing people of all ages, backgrounds and interests access to leadership skills. Shafer Leadership Executive Director, Mitch Isaacs, said investment in leaders matters most when times are tough. “Companies like Tyson Foods that invest in leaders now are helping their people weather the storm and positioning their companies to emerge from the pandemic stronger and more resilient,” he added.

Tyson worked with Shafer Leadership to customize the program based on the specific needs and goals of Tyson supervisors. In February, SLA Program Director Tisha Gierhart visited the plant to talk with each shift and team member. That assessment informed the custom program, which included SLA signature programs The Five Behaviors, Emotional Intelligence, and The Leadership Challenge.

A Satisfied Family

Gierhart said more than 97 percent of participants were satisfied with the experience, which wrapped in late October.

“To spend six weeks with the same group of people made it like family, and I kind of miss them now. I felt like we all really learned to trust each other and recognize similarities, which helped these managers because many of them don’t get to share and interact because they work different shifts,” said Gierhart, who has worked at SLA since 2014. “The homework piece was especially important because it challenged participants to apply each session to their workday, then reflect on it at the start of the next session.

“By the end of the training, so many of them were using tools in their toolbox, but they didn’t even recognize them as tools because those tools had become such a part of the way they communicated, and so much of the work to build effective workplaces is about building effective communication,” she added.

Open, Honest Discussions

Gierhart said the interactive sessions empowered participants to hold open, honest discussions about group dynamics and team building, among other topics. Virtual Program Manager, Eilis Wasserman, operated video, audio, text and interactive tools within each Zoom session. With her help, participants used digital collaboration “whiteboards,” live polls, breakout sessions, chat boxes and non-verbal feedback buttons.

“SLA’s style is very interactive, and this experience was no different, as we challenged participants to build relationships inside and outside the room,” said Wasserman. “I’m an introvert and Tisha is an extrovert, so we worked to make sure all personality types felt comfortable and able to contribute. For instance, we allowed people to reflect in notebooks or to share out, and we provided participants with access to a password-protected resource site. On that site, we listed contact information, a place for continual feedback, so we were able to address their needs and hopes in real time.”

Wasserman said participants also learned from observing how she and Gierhart operated. “We asked a lot of ‘why’ questions as we pushed participants to go deeper and change behaviors, and they experienced the outcomes of that process of inquiry,” Wasserman added. Feedback after the sessions spoke to teams that have changed processes and dismantled silos as a result of the sessions. “One team has added a new team meeting, and that idea came out of a session,” she added.

Gierhart said the scale of the Tyson training has allowed Shafer Leadership to expand what it can offer before, during and after a virtual or hybrid experience.

“I have taught virtual trainings and in person trainings, but this experience was unique because we were coming to them virtually, displayed on a big screen in the room, where they were together in person,” Gierhart said. “That format challenged me to bring components of both live sessions and virtual sessions to create a program that was different from anything we have ever offered, and it really opens the doors in terms of how we can connect with a range of audiences, near or far.”

A Valuable Investment

Tyson Human Resources Manager Bree Steffen said the program empowered front-line workers with enhanced communication, social awareness and leadership skills. She has heard from many participants that they appreciated the time to self-reflect and consider new approaches to working with teams, managing difficult people and situations, and lead with positivity, among many outcomes.

“Shafer Leadership has been a valuable investment in the growth of our leadership team giving them the soft skills to develop the next leaders and becoming a more well-rounded employer,” Steffen said.

In early spring 2021, SLA will continue the relationship with Tyson with sessions from signature trainings, Emotional Intelligence and The Leadership Challenge.

Go to shaferleadership.com for an overview of its programs, scholarships, and impact on the community. Connect with SLA on Facebook, LinkedIn, or call the office at 765-748-0403.


About the author:

Mitch Isaacs was named Shafer Leadership Academy’s Executive Director in May 2015. In this role, he works closely with the organization’s board of directors to fulfill the mission of the organization. He is responsible for creating vision, connecting with stakeholders, administering program offerings and leading the organization in meaningful ways. 

I’m Right and You’re Wrong

My name is Eleanor Cooper. I am a senior at Burris Laboratory School, and I am doing a fall internship with Shafer Leadership Academy. I am passionate about developing myself and others.

I also pride myself on being outspoken and I love being right, to a fault.

As much as I get frustrated when people assume things about me, I assume things about others. I write about these topics because I know that when I am teaching and coaching others, I am also coaching myself.

It’s a Mindset

No, this is not a personal attack. It’s the mindset that, often, we find ourselves in. Want to win an argument? Just assume the other person is ignorant. Abandon all hope of a genuine conversation after hearing one thing that you can judge them for. Right? Well…

This is flawed in a few different ways. First, you cannot go into a conversation and expect to gain from it if you want to ‘win’. The point of an argument is not to win, and that’s something that we’ve been wrong about for a long time. Is it helpful to yell and bicker and wear someone down so much that they believe it’s hopeless to converse with you?

“So, Eleanor,” you might be thinking, “What is the point of an argument, if not to prove that your point is correct?” Simply put, stating your point can replace hours of strife. Stating is different than proving. No one is going to agree with you 100% of the time, and we need to accept that.

What Can We Do Better?

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” (Stephen R. Covey) Now, listening comes in. Once we are clear that we don’t need to prove ourselves correct every moment of every day, we are ready to have open minds. So, let us answer the question: What can we do better?

  1. Discipline yourself. Have you ever caught yourself making a snap judgement purely out of habit? Chances are, you have. If this happens, stop yourself. Jumping to conclusions is one of the most harmful things that we do.


  1. Ask them. Likely, no one has. Ask if anything is wrong and how you can help. Do not ask accusatory questions such as “Why were you late?” “Does that mean you hate ___?” “So, you’re a ___?” “So, you think that ___?” instead, “Did something happen that you need to talk through?” “How do you feel about ___?” “Are you ___?” “What do you think about ___?”


  1. Listen for a response. Sure, maybe you are asking instead of assuming, and you are asking in a polite way, but what’s the little voice in your head saying? In the back of your mind, do you already think you know the answer? Maybe not- if that is the case, kudos to you! I know that I still struggle with internalized judgements and biases.

That is OK.

Admitting our struggles is a sign of progress. Working harder to listen results in better relationships. You will feel better and so will the people around you.

About the author:

Eleanor Cooper is an intern at Shafer Leadership Academy this year working with Executive Director Mitch Isaacs. She attends Burris Laboratory School as a senior and first connected with Shafer Leadership Academy as a part of the Burris-Central Youth Leadership Program in early 2019.


The 100 Year Lesson

My extended family recently gathered to wish my great grandmother a 100th birthday. Armed with masks, and instructed in very certain terms by my Great Aunt Sherry to socially distance and use “air hugs”, we stayed outdoors and endured August’s swelter to pay tribute to the one woman who connects us all.

After nearly three hours, I finally managed to get some time with her towards the end of the party.  At 100 tomorrow is rarely guaranteed, so I took the chance to ask for a little bit of wisdom.

She reminded me of what I already knew, but needed to hear again, especially in 2020.

Stick It Out

“So, Grandmother,” I said as loudly as I could through my mask, “what have you learned in 100 years of life?”

“Well Mitchell” (she’s one of the few people who get to call me by my full name) “there’s still a lot I don’t understand. I don’t know why I’ve lived so long when so many others have passed. I don’t always know why we suffer or why life is sometimes hard. I’ve lived through the Great Depression and I’ve gone hungry. I still don’t understand why.  What I do know is that life isn’t always hard. Things are good, then they aren’t, and eventually they get good again.”

We were interrupted shortly after that, but she made her point.

If you stick it out long enough, things get better.

I Want to Quit 2020

It is a simple message, I know, but it is easy to forget, especially this year. 2020 has presented us all with new challenges. A global pandemic, a heated national election, and heightened awareness of racial justice have redefined how we work and how we relate to each other. Those of us in leadership roles have found ourselves in impossible positions. We have made hard choices, rarely to universal acceptance, and sometimes to sharp criticism.

A personal example: I’ve wanted to quit leading my neighborhood association more than once. I have faced more challenges as the president of a voluntary neighborhood board in the last three months than I have in the last three years. Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth the effort, especially when the complaints are louder than the compliments. I needed Grandmother’s reminder that it won’t always be this hard. As the adage goes: this too shall pass.

Yes, this year is hard. Yes, leading makes it even harder. However there is satisfaction in doing hard things. There is reward in persistence. These are the times when leadership matters most.

My great-grandmother’s reminder that life brings us peaks and valleys, provides both relief and inspiration. Relief that things will get better and inspiration to keep moving forward.

After 100 years maybe the simplest wisdom is the best.


About the author:

Mitch Isaacs was named Shafer Leadership Academy’s Executive Director in May 2015. In this role, he works closely with the organization’s board of directors to fulfill the mission of the organization. He is responsible for creating vision, connecting with stakeholders, administering program offerings and leading the organization in meaningful ways. 

Being Right vs Getting It Right

I like being right. I’ve always liked being right. In school I prided myself on reading all the books. I was the kid who kept asking teachers questions while everyone else wanted to go to recess.

It feels good to be “right.” It’s reassuring and self-validating.  It can also isolate us from other people. It’s a temptation which leads to limitation. If we’re always focused on what we know, we miss what we can learn.

Eventually I realized that a good question is worth far more than a good answer.

Always Knowing or Always Learning?

Brené Brown addresses this in her book “Dare to Lead”.  She suggests that daring leaders are more interested in getting it right than being right.

Having to be “the ‘knower’ or always being right is heavy armor. It’s defensiveness, it’s posturing, and worst of all, it’s a huge driver of bullshit. It’s also very common – most of us have some degree of knower in usit leads to distrust, bad decisions, unnecessary rumbles, and unproductive conflict.”

So how do we avoid this trap?

Brown calls us to “transform always knowing into always learning.” 

She recommends three steps:

  • Name the issue by participating in clear, if not tough, conversations.
  • Make curiosity a priority
  • Acknowledge and reward asking great questions as a daring leadership behavior

Ask Good Questions and Listen

So how does this apply to George Floyd?

For me it means that I still do not know the answers but if I listen, I may better understand the problem.

I still do not understand the experience of African Americans. Or those who feel marginalized every day. Or police officers. I could focus on sharing my experience and perspective but what would that teach me?

So, I’m going to listen more. I’m going to ask questions when I don’t understand, even if that means I risk looking foolish when I do so. 

And I hope you do the same. There is so much we don’t understand about each other’s experiences. There is so much pain and anger in the world that it’s easy to feel powerless in the face of it.

I encourage you to follow Dr. Brown’s advice. Instead of focusing on what you know, focus on what you can learn. How can you understand someone else’s perspective? What are the questions you need answered, not as an interrogation, but as a path to understanding? What do you need to do to really listen to those responses?

It Is OK to Be Afraid

For some of us its natural to worry about saying the wrong thing in these situations. I felt fear writing this and even more than a little fear sharing it with you. It is easy to focus on that fear of being wrong.

Push past that.  As Dr. Brown says it is more important to be always learning than always knowing. The search for understanding is a journey, not a destination, and there will be bumps along the way. You will get some things wrong and that is OK.

Because in the end, we do not have to be right – but we can get it right.


About the author:

Mitch Isaacs was named Shafer Leadership Academy’s Executive Director in May 2015. In this role, he works closely with the organization’s board of directors to fulfill the mission of the organization. He is responsible for creating vision, connecting with stakeholders, administering program offerings and leading the organization in meaningful ways. 

5 Tips to Strengthen Team Trust

Without doing a trust fall or other silly trust building activities

The following is part of a series of guest posts by local leaders. This post is authored by Lauralee Hites. Lauralee is the Sr. Organization Consultant & Principal Owner at Stratavize Consulting Inc. in Richmond, Indiana.



Do you remember the song “You’re Going Miss Me When I’m Gone”?  Well, here’s the YouTube video if you need a refresher.  Go head, watch it, I’ll be here when you get back.  I love that song, it’s such a catchy tune but, I digress.  It happens way too often in life; we don’t realize how great something is until we no longer have it.   Then we start searching for what we had or trying to re-create it.  I had this experience then, spent years trying to find what I had or trying to re-create it. Finally, after realizing I couldn’t crack the code, I spent years researching why I couldn’t just simply recreate it.  

In the mid-2000’s, I knew my work team was special but, I didn’t realize how unique my experience was or how much I would miss them until I was on a new team.  It was the feeling of losing something great and the frustration with other teams that drove me to spend 5 years studying how the strongest and most high performing teams get that way.  There were many reasons the team I was on for 8 years, my Dream Team, was high performing.  However, for this article I want to focus on just one of the reasons. 

Researching What It Takes To Be A Dream Team 

As part of my research, I read about the team dynamics of the first cast of NBC’s Saturday Night Live.  As a super fan of SNL’s early years, I was engrossed in what made the original cast so successful.  Much of the story resonated with me and my experience with my old team.  

As the story goes, Loren Michaels, the fearless leader, personally selected each member of the original cast. Even after hundreds of auditions, he chose people he had connection with and knew in some capacity. Many of us know some of the comedic greats that were in the first season; Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, Chevy Chase, John Belushi among others.  While reading about the stories, of what some consider the funniest group of people to have ever come together, so much of their story reminded me of my old team.  There was drama, fighting, inner-team conflict, but there was also, pulling pranks on each other, fanatically funny comedy, producing high quality work, and truly caring for each other.  As Malcolm Gladwell wrote in 2002, “In the early days of SNL, everyone knew everyone and everyone was always in everyone else’s business, and that fact goes a long way toward explaining the extraordinary chemistry among the show’s cast.” 

After several books, interviews, and research of the original cast – one thing stood out as the linchpin to making this first cast one of the most successful comedic groups of all time.  The linchpin was Psychological Safety.   Harvard Professor Dr. Amy Edmundson, first coined this term in 1999 while conducting research on teams in the healthcare industry.  It wasn’t until years later that the term went more mainstream after appearing in Google’s research published in 2015.  

Dr. Edmundson’s definition of Psychological Safety is “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.”  If you boil down the definition of, it means you feel comfortable being you and you can say exactly what you’re thinking or feeling without the fear of retribution.   According to Dr. Edmundson’s research it’s more than TRUST.  It’s strengthening trust and taking it to the next level.

After leaving the Dream Team, I realized finding a team with psychology safety was harder than one may expect.  Let me be clear, the teams that followed were made up of good people.  My following managers were good managers, my teammates were easy to get along with but, there was something missing.  Something that made being on the Dream Team different than the others.  That something was psychological safety.  There was a team trust that we could truly be who we are, say what we want to say, without fear we would “hurt” other teammate’s feelings.  We knew we genuinely cared about each other and trusted one another.  We were confident in one another’s reliability and dependability. As a result, we had a deep-seated loyalty to the team. 

The foundation for a high performing team is psychological safety, to achieve that leaders must strengthen team trust. 

How You Can Strengthen Team Trust to Create Psychological Safety:

  1. Curiosity Culture – create a team where everyone is comfortable to explore, discover, ask questions and try new things without fear of rejection.  I’m not talking about “innovation” – a term thrown around a lot lately.  I’m talking about small things, questioning authority or the team leader or just asking many questions about a project, initiative, or status quo.  
  2. True Transparency of Thought – Another buzz word – transparency.  I worked with a person that used this term almost daily to describe themselves.  They wanted people to be transparent if it was “nice” but, transparency does not work like that.  Being transparent about your feelings of disappointment of a person on your team is critical to ending the “behind the back talk”.  If you get defensive when someone is giving you feedback – you do not value real transparency. 
  3. Embrace Humility –  As leaders and team members, we have to have the humility to accept that another person’s idea or solution may be better.  
  4. Voices Are Heard – The loudest voice is often heard but, what about others?  As leaders, we must make space for all voices.  We must remind our team that speaking up is important to the greater good of the team and the organization.  Too many times, great ideas go unspoken and concerns go unheard.  
  5. Know Each Other – Every GREAT team I have been on, whether it was the Dream Team or another team, we carved out time to truly know each other.  The teams that lacked trust and collaboration, we didn’t spend any time together.  We worked together and that was it.  Don’t get me wrong, personality tests are helpful but, to know each other you have to spend time with each other in a nonwork setting. 

Studying, writing about, and helping teams is now my life’s work.   High functioning teams is what will carry the work forward for every company.  No team, no company.  With increasing polarizing politics and the widening of generational personality gaps – there is no better time to improve and strengthen team dynamics.  

Have you ever been on a Dream Team?  Tell us about it!  What was it like? What made it a dream team?


About the Author: Lauralee Hites

After almost two decades Lauralee left corporate America to open her own boutique consulting firm, Stratavize Consulting Inc.  Lauralee was recently considered a Top 5 Speaker at Conference in 2019. Want to work with Laura? Contact Mitch Isaacs to learn more.

The Local Leader in Virtual Learning

When the world changed in mid-March, so did Shafer Leadership Academy. Two weeks after our board of directors made the necessary decision to halt in person classes, we launched our first virtual series. 

Since March 26th, Shafer Leadership Academy has conducted:

  • 6 virtual community programs with 478 participants
  • from 63 different organizations while maintaining a 97% satisfaction rating.
  • Organizations with the highest number of attendees were: Ball State University, Ivy Tech, Ontario Systems, Muncie Power Products and Open Door Health Services.

Here are a few notes from attendees:

“I enjoyed being able to interact with the activities and seeing everyone’s different responses. It was very informative and gave me good ideas that will help me through this hard time”.


“I appreciate the friendly presentation style of the facilitator. She was engaging and kept me interested in the material”.


“We are all in this together. I’m excited that we are learning from great leaders here in our very own community. Thank you Shafer Leadership Academy”


These virtual programs are free for SLA members and for a limited time this offer is being extended to the entire community at no cost.

In addition to our community programs, Shafer Leadership Academy has continued to offer custom programming to organizations virtually. For years Shafer Leadership Academy has provided tailored programs for organizations across East Central Indiana. We made the transition this spring to virtual custom programming.

Here is what our virtual custom programming clients have to say:

“I enjoyed being able to interact with the activities and seeing everyone’s different responses. It was very informative and gave me good ideas that will help me through this hard time. Even virtually, Shafer Leadership Academy was able to engage with our students. Through these challenging times, it was great to be able to still provide leadership development to our students.”

– Abby Haworth, Associate Director of Student Life, Ball State University


“Shafer Leadership Academy has been instrumental in helping us provide programming that is relevant, engaging, and student focused. Our virtual Student Leadership Series has been one of our best attended programs throughout this transition and students have enjoyed each session and topic. Mitch and his team do a fabulous job of engaging students and reaching them at their level to keep them interested and wanting more. I am impressed but not surprised as SLA has been a valued partner to help provide quality professional development opportunities to our students in the past.  Thank you for your desire to serve our students and the Muncie community during this unprecedented time.”

– Terri Sanders, Student Life Coordinator, Ivy Tech


How could virtual programming from the Shafer Leadership Academy help your organization?

Virtual is here to stay. As the world begins to consider new ways to work, organizations are increasingly looking for virtual solutions.  Shafer Leadership Academy is here with world class leadership training, close to home. 

Learn more about how Shafer Leadership Academy can help your organization provide inclusive leadership development opportunities. 

Check out our upcoming virtual community programs:

Ask about a custom virtual program for your team:

Nonprofits are (Like) Businesses Too

The following is part of a series of guest posts by local leaders. This post is authored by Jenna Wachtmann, vice president of Ball Brothers Foundation.  Ball Brothers Foundation is a family foundation dedicated to the stewardship legacy of the Ball brothers and to the pursuit of improving the quality of life in Muncie, Delaware County, East Central Indiana, and Indiana through philanthropy and leadership.


Prior to joining the staff of Ball Brothers Foundation, I was a fundraiser for a neighborhood-based social service agency serving families impacted by deep inner-city poverty. I spent my days juggling grant deadlines, meeting with donors, developing new programs with staff, and, generally, running around like my hair was on fire. I started my job in 2007, not long before the world economy began to collapse. We raced to meet the needs of neighbors impacted by the “great recession” and unemployment, hunger, utility disconnects, and more as the demand for services skyrocketed.

As trying as those times were, they taught me many lessons that have helped shape my beliefs about nonprofit management and philanthropy. I had the great fortune of working with a team of smart, dedicated, innovative colleagues who worked tirelessly to re-imagine our traditional models of service delivery. We were also led by an Executive Director who had vision, who empowered his employees to excel, and who ran our organization with deep care for our neighbors and a very sharp business sense.

The COVID-19 pandemic is certainly different in many ways than the economic collapse a decade ago. But what’s not different? Just like a decade ago, we desperately need our local nonprofit organizations to carry-on their vital services and be creative in re-imagining the ways they serve our communities.

Just like small businesses—which have been in the news a lot lately—nonprofits are under incredible pressure right now. Having a sharp business sense is crucial. So whether you work for a nonprofit or serve on a nonprofit board, here are a few things to think about:

  1. Is our leadership and board asking the hard questions that need to be asked? Is there anyone missing from our board?

There’s no such thing as a “business-as-usual” approach during times like this. It is critical for nonprofit board members to be stepping up, asking hard questions and working together to support staff in finding answers. Will our insurance policy cover losses related to COVID? What’s our estimated loss of event revenue for X and what steps can we take now to offset this loss? Should we be pursuing funding via the new federal emergency and stimulus programs? What does our organization’s condition look like 3 months or 6 months from now? This is also a great time to look at the make-up of your board. Do you have bankers, healthcare workers, accountants, lawyers, marketing/public relations experts, other experienced nonprofit leaders, remote technology pros, or small business owners on your board that can lend their expertise?  

  1. How can we better serve our clients/constituents/neighbors?

The best nonprofits—and businesses—are those who never get comfortable. They are deeply in-tune with the needs of their customers/constituents, and they seek constant feedback to inform continuous improvement. Every Friday during our staff meeting, BBF staff discuss these questions: What can we do to better serve our grantees? How can we better communicate? Is there anything we need to do differently next week? This has become a regular agenda item since the COVID crisis began….and it’s something I expect we’ll continue for a long time.     

  1. What is our cash flow situation? How many days of cash do we have on hand? What are our fixed costs versus variable costs?

As the old saying goes, “cash is king.” It’s absolutely critical for nonprofit leaders and board members to have a strong understanding of cash flow and cash position, especially now. Can you clearly articulate exactly how many days of cash your organization has on hand? Does your organization have a sense of which costs are fairly fixed (can’t do much to change in short term) or variable (may be optional or adjustable)? Does your organization have reserves or a line of credit? If not, now’s the time to ensure that everyone at the management and governance levels is crystal clear about where your organization stands financially. You can’t plan for the future without a strong sense of exactly where you stand right now.

  1. What’s our Plan A, B, and C?What outside help can we get to think through the next 3-6-12-24 months?

If there’s one thing that is certain about the COVID-19 pandemic, its uncertainty. But that shouldn’t stop you from thinking about the future. The “recovery” phase of COVID is likely to be long and challenging—things aren’t going back to normal anytime soon. Remember, this is a marathon—not a sprint. Creating flexible plans and scenarios are extremely important. Having an outside advisor to help you think through finances, HR, fundraising strategies, service delivery models, and more may be crucial. Any good entrepreneur knows the limits of his/her knowledge and seeks outside help. Nonprofits can—and should—do the same. Reach out to the team at the Innovation Connector. Check out the low-cost services of Indiana Youth Institute. And reach out to your local funders to keep us in the loop on how your organization is doing right now and what’s on your mind as you look to the future.

Remember, as nonprofits, we know how to work together in good times and challenging times. Today, nonprofits are needed to be extra strong for our communities. Keep in contact with your colleagues and keep taking care of yourself too.

Jenna Wachtmann, vice president, joined the Ball Brothers Foundation staff in 2014 after working in fundraising and program development for social service agencies in St. Louis and Indianapolis. She also completed an internship with the U.S. Department of State, Office of Innovation. She is a graduate of Abilene Christian University and holds both a certificate in nonprofit management from the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IUPUI and an executive master of arts degree in philanthropic studies from the IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. As vice president, Jenna supports the foundation’s president and COO in strategy development, communications, and day-to-day management of operations. She also works directly with the foundation’s grantees. Learn more about BBF at: https://www.ballfdn.org/

Five Tips for Crisis Communication

The following is part of a series of guest posts by local leaders. This post is authored by Jessica Shrout, owner of Circle Three Branding. She recently facilitated an SLA Lunch & Learn titled “Too Nice to Lead”. 


As a brand or a leader (you have a personal “brand” that your leadership promotes – even if you didn’t intend it that way), every move you make impacts marketing – from the things you say on the phone to the suppliers you choose to use. Everything you do sends a message to customers or followers about who you are, what you stand for, and how you do business. How you choose to react during tumultuous times is being watched by your target audience who will then choose which brands and leaders they trust and where to go for service in the future.

The potential crises that may arise and affect your marketing include everything from a national or regional crisis to a weather- or facilities-related disaster—or even a company or personal embarrassment. You may do your best to avoid conflict, but the most seasoned leaders know that these things happen – take COVID-19, for instance. Your best chance for survival is to have a crisis communication plan that is just as thoughtfully prepared as any physical emergency plan your company has in place.

The exact course of action will vary based on your brand, your customers, the platforms you use, and the extent of the crisis (and this can change so quickly), but there are some steps you can take that will provide clarity and help you choose a course of action.

Make sure your crisis communication plan includes these steps:

  • Pause all upcoming posts, events and promotions. Automated social media posting services are a wonderful tool, but autopilot can be a curse when your tongue-in-cheek pre-planned post about “Taco Tuesday” launches right after the news breaks about a somber event or a company crisis.
  • Take a breath. Don’t act until you have taken a moment to consider your options. There is a callous rush to be among the first to respond to an event with #thoughtsandprayers. Unless you are a news agency rushing to inform the public, this is an unnecessary risk. Take a break. Feel your emotions but keep them separate from the brand’s needs.
  • Review your brand guidelines and company policies. Is there a policy in place about responding to an event like this? How would your brand voice speak about it if your brand was a person? Talk to management and the legal team. Listen to how your co-workers are handling it. Explore what your brand demographic is saying.
  • Choose a course of action. You can always opt not to comment – and that may be the wisest option for your brand. Evaluate the potential response from your fan base for all your options. Ensure you have your team’s approval (and company alignment) on whatever course you choose and always act with sincerity. Your options include:
    “Going Dark”—No messaging at all. This would be a day with no posts or comments from you or the company.
    “Ops Normal”—Posting like normal, no acknowledgement of the issue. It’s a risky but sometimes good choice when there is an issue like a celebrity death that has little effect on your brand but may cause a disturbance if you post about it. Sometimes it’s best to ignore it and continue like normal.
    Acknowledgement—Posting or releasing some statement and otherwise going dark out of respect or company protocol.
    Hybrid schedule—An acknowledgment of the issue followed by your normal posting schedule. This is a good option when your brand has to say something, but you don’t need to close operations – and you want to avoid the overkill phenomenon where all your followers see is similar crisis messaging from all the brands they follow. It get’s boring. If it’s acceptable for your brand to send out posts, do so: we’re hungry for fresh, unrelated-to-the-crisis content.
  • Plan to fail. Even the sincerest post can trigger offense in someone: let’s call this a “micro crisis.” Not posting at all can also be a problem for some brand fans—”Hey, aren’t you guys going to say anything about this?!” Decide how you’ll handle the potential positive and negative responses and inform your team so that everyone is prepared, and emotions remain under control. When a micro crisis occurs and things get heated in the comments of your well-meant post, stop and step away from the computer. Go back to the beginning of this list and go through the steps again to formulate a plan to resolve this micro crisis.

That Said: Don’t Be Afraid to Take Risks
Some of the best marketing has come from someone brave enough to take lemons and make lemonade. Do you remember the Super Bowl XLVII blackout? Nabisco “won the Internet” with an incredibly well-timed tweet about how you can still dunk your Oreo cookies in the dark. Their marketing staff was well-versed in the brand’s guidelines and positioning and were prepared to respond to any Super Bowl-related events—and you can bet they had a disaster plan in place just in case that tweet did not go over well with fans. A “crisis” is a marketer’s time to shine. 

In marketing and communications, you need to take every opportunity as a serious chance to promote the brand and its values even if it’s something as simple as the messages that go out during a pandemic. Providing fresh, interesting content could catapult your brand to stardom, but be careful: your customers are watching.

Jessica Shrout is the owner of Circle Three Branding – a national marketing agency dedicated to the waste and recycling industry. She also takes on select clients in other industries including agriculture, education, heavy equipment, and tourism. Jessica’s work in marketing and brand development have won first-place awards at the national level in 2018 and 2019. She is also a columnist on marketing strategy.



It’s Time For Your Time

by: Dr. Joe Misiewicz

Emeritus Chair of the Department of Telecommunications at Ball State University and                                      Facilitator for Shafer Leadership Academy

Well another day pondering what to do, what needs to get done what I want to do and yes, what I have to do.

Managing one’s time is often challenging and given the current situation we are facing there appears to be friends contacting me about time management tips. Before tossing out some tips allow me to say ‘thanks’ to the Shafer Leadership Academy team for not hunkering down at home but for keeping their various leadership tips alive via digital media.

One Calendar

Take a moment and open your calendar whether it be paper or on a digital device. By the way there should only be ‘one’ calendar. In your calendar should be the following:

At least once during a day your name should appear as “Your Time” and you should use that 30 minutes (minimum) 45 (maximum) for you. You need to write your name in the calendar and set the timer 15 or 30 minutes prior to remind you of your time. Go read, plug in music, look out the window, take a short walk, set up a hobby but simply make sure this is your time. Write a poem, tinker with a board game knowing you don’t have to finish, do a cross-word, This applies to those working from home as well as those continuing to go to the office or work environment. We all need ‘our time’.

It is also possible one day a week to share ‘your’ time with a good friend and both of you note that in the calendar so rather than say ‘we’ll keep in touch’ you actually will keep in touch.

Check Routines

Check ‘routines’ carefully. We tend to save ‘chores’ for weekends. Weekends should be for family, friends and us not for chores. Do laundry first thing in the morning and fold it while watching a show you enjoy or chatting with a friend via the phone. Try to end phrases like “Wednesdays are for cleaning floors”, “Saturdays are laundry days” and “Friday nights are for grocery shopping”. Flip these days around.

For work, carefully check what is absolutely due Monday and maybe Tuesday morning. Try to get it wrapped up by mid to late afternoon Friday so your weekend is your weekend. Given the current situation it appears many are absorbing themselves in work simply because they are not sure what else to do. It is clear that working from home consumes time but many note it does not seem to take as much time as actually being in an office. Adjust accordingly.

It is time to load your calendar with ‘your time’ and make it a different time daily!  

Still Juggling?

For those still juggling, here is a short version of managing one’s time:

  1. What has to be done in 48 hours? Focus and do it.
  2. What would be nice to tidy up and get it done? Do these in stages knowing they’ll get done during the week. Check projects ‘you’ve’ thought about but never quite got to doing it and do it in segments knowing by week’s end it will be done.
  3. Oh look! This looks interesting and I think I’ll drift and….NO…go back to number 1 and 2 above.

Shafer Leadership Academy is committed to providing you inclusive leadership development opportunities during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are currently offering free virtual sessions to the community. 

Click here to learn more about our virtual sessions.

Questions? Email Shafer Leadership Academy or call the office at 765-748-0403.


SLA Offers Free Virtual Programs During COVID-19

Muncie, Ind. — Muncie Nonprofit Shafer Leadership Academy is offering free virtual leadership development programs to the public during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, More Than Ever

“We need leadership now, more than ever” said SLA Executive Director Mitch Isaacs. “In uncertain times people look to their leaders to provide calm, clear, and competent guidance.” Isaacs explained that many leaders have found themselves operating without a road map. It is his hope to provide local leaders an opportunity to discuss how to best serve their communities and organizations.

“Leaders need a place to gather in order learn from each other. This is one of our core services at Shafer Leadership Academy.  Gathering provides people with reinforcement and comfort.  We need to deliver that to our community, even when we can’t gather in the same room.”

Experiment and Innovate

Virtual programming is new for Shafer Leadership Academy. Although they have provided limited virtual offerings for select companies and organizations in the past, this is the first time SLA has offered a virtual lineup to the community.

“We see these circumstances as a chance to experiment and innovate. In took us about two weeks from the time we decided to cancel in person classes until we announced our virtual lineup.”  The virtual lineup, according to Isaacs, is a result of a survey Shafer Leadership Academy sent its membership not long after businesses and organizations began closing. “We thought it was important to listen first” Isaacs explained, “before acting. We were pleasantly surprised by the number of responses we received in just a few days’ time.  I think it speaks to people’s need to connect.”

Virtual Lineup

The virtual line up kicks off Thursday, March 26th with a “Screenside Chat” about leadership lessons.  According to Isaacs, “FDR’s fireside chats provided hope, comfort, and inspiration to the public during the Depression, and later World War 2.  Just as radio connected us then, the internet connects us now. Hopefully we can recreate a little bit of that same magic.” 

The next session, “Adapting to a Virtual World: Ideas for Extroverts and Introverts” provides guidance on how both personality types can adapt in the emerging world of virtual work. “I’ve noticed memes lately about checking on your extrovert friends” Isaacs offered. “It’s funny and kind of true. We wanted to explore that.”

The third session, “How to Talk to Your Team” returns to the Screenside Chat format. “We invited our CFO Consultant, Pam Messiner from Cathedral Capital, to facilitate this session. Pam has guided business of all sizes, from small to global, through a variety of critical decisions. Pam is levelheaded and data oriented. She’s got great insight into how leaders can stay calm and help their teams make strategic decisions” Isaacs reported.

The virtual lineup concludes with a webinar on “How to Inspire a Shared Vision.”  According to Isaacs this is one of the sessions SLA has offered virtually. “Our Program Director, Tisha Gierhart, facilitated this as a hybrid class for Ontario Systems last year and their team provided us with some great feedback.”

Shafer Leadership Academy’s virtual lineup is free and open to the public, although registration is required. Learn more about Shafer Leadership Academy and the current program opportunities at www.shaferleadership.com/virtual.


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