West Michigan leaders need to ‘just keep swimming’

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Now is our time.

The first three quarters of 2020 have been unprecedented in nearly every way imaginable. Our world, our country and our West Michigan community has experienced and continues to experience a series of medical crises, economic crises, supply chain crises, social justice crises and, most recently, growing mental health crises.

The combination of multiple crises happening concurrently with no solid end in sight has made this time period particularly difficult for our government, social institutions and business leaders to navigate. If you are reading this, you are likely a leader in West Michigan, and if you are a leader in these challenging times you have likely felt or are feeling tired, alone, lost and unsure of exactly how to respond to those who look to you for direction. You’ve also likely looked to others in leadership roles and longed for their clarity of direction, fortitude to see things through and their confidence in facing an uncertain future.

I have a secret I want to share with you. You are not alone. Though some are less likely to admit it, all leaders experience times when they are unsure of themselves. Unsure how to respond to what is happening both inside and outside of their organization.

All leaders go through valleys where they experience exhaustion, loneliness and temporarily lose hope in the future. Yet the best leaders among us somehow still manage to keep moving, to keep inspiring, and to keep building for a future brighter than the past.

The leaders that can keep moving through challenging times tend to both embrace the harsh reality of the current state and stay inspired by their vision for the future. These leaders use this vision for the future to fight off the fear and fatigue that can paralyze each of us in uncertain times.

These leaders subscribe to the Dory Model of Leadership. You might recall the 2003 Disney Pixar movie “Finding Nemo” and Dory’s famous line, “just keep swimming.” This catchphrase holds great wisdom, especially during times of crisis. Dory’s insight encourages us to keep moving, to make the decision in front of you and move on to the next challenge.

Where do we find the energy we need to keep moving forward? We find it in each other. We find it in stories of businesses we know and respect using their voice to create a more equitable West Michigan. We find it in stories of businesses in our community successfully pivoting and finding opportunity in the face of uncertainty. We find it in the stories of struggle and triumph coming from a thriving startup community. We find it by surrounding ourselves with visionaries and difference makers. By spending time with those that see an amazing future for West Michigan. We find it in a vision for West Michigan that says we are uniquely positioned to thrive in the world to come. We are the right size, in the right region, with the right resources to build a West Michigan unlike any other region in the country. A West Michigan that is inclusive and entrepreneurial. A West Michigan whose leaders understand that business leaders are community leaders.

The future of West Michigan is bright. Many of these leaders will be participating in and attending the 2020 CEO Summit on the morning of Oct. 6. Visit www.grandrapids.org to join them.

Nate Koetje is CEO of Feyen Zylstra in Grand Rapids.

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