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The Requirement of Resilience: How to Lead (and Live) in Times of Crisis

MP McQueen  | Law.com - May 29, 2020

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So far, 2020 is shaping up to be the most challenging year in at least a decade for global businesses and their in-house counsel.

The first cases of the novel coronavirus were reported in December 2019 in Wuhan, China, and by March, the World Health Organization had declared a pandemic, prompting sudden shutdowns of schools, businesses and institutions across the globe; suspending international travel and immigration; disrupting industrial and agricultural supply chains; and causing financial markets turmoil.

Since then, in-house legal leaders have been forced to cope with wave after wave of government orders, new regulations, labor shortages, layoffs and other demands while adjusting to working entirely from home under shelter-in-place orders in many instances, often with family members who are similarly confined. Parents are simultaneously juggling homeschooling and child care, and sometimes caregiving for ill relatives, at the same time they’re working from home. And so far there’s no knowing when it will end.

It’s a lot to deal with. But some mental health professionals and veteran in-house legal leaders have experience and thoughts to share about how counsel can tap into their inner reserves to get through it all.

Mary Alvord, director of Alvord, Baker & Associates in Rockville, Maryland, and a psychologist who writes and speaks extensively on the topic, said in a recent interview about resilience: “The original definition was the process of and capacity to successfully adapt despite challenging or threatening circumstances. We defined it more broadly as skills, aptitudes and abilities that enable someone to adapt to changes and challenges. It is not something you innately have, but that you can foster and enhance. We all have the capacity to build our resilience.”

‘The ability to stay the course despite difficulty’

Michelle Banks was executive vice president and global general counsel at Gap Inc., the U.S.-based apparel retailer, for 10 years during an especially tumultuous period from 2006 through 2016, and prior to that was head of compliance at the company. Today she is a senior adviser and executive coach at BarkerGilmore in San Francisco, where she coaches other law department leaders.

“We had a lot of crisis management opportunities between the last recession, the Bangladesh fire and building tragedies, the SARS outbreak and three CEO transitions,” she said of her tenure. Her more than 17 years in total at the company also included 9/11/2001 and the recession that followed the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. In the case of the Bangladesh fire and building collapse in 2010, dozens of workers died and hundreds were injured in a fire at a factory in Dhaka that manufactured clothing for Gap. The 2003 SARS outbreak in Asia shuttered factories.

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