Community college president talks leadership during pandemic

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 22, 2020

By Liz Moomey

SALISBURY — Janet Spriggs offered four key ways to lead during the “brave new normal” of the ongoing pandemic: be calm, be confident, be courageous and be compassionate.

Hosted by the Rowan Chamber of Commerce, Spriggs spoke Thursday during the organization’s Power in Partnership breakfast event held via Zoom. Spriggs is former chief operating officer of the Rowan-Cabarrus Community College and president of Forsyth Technical Community College. In addition to digital attendees, she spoke to the graduating class of Leadership Rowan on “Learning to Make a Difference: Living Your Purpose in a Brave New Normal.”

Spriggs outlined her initial goals for 2020. She was entering in her second year as the president of Forsyth Tech and had high expectations for the year. She traveled to Ireland in February and toured around New York in early March. Then, the COVID-19 outbreak made its appearance.

“There was no playbook, no leadership manual to guide us through, nothing to tell us how to do what had never been done before,” she said.

Meetings and classes were moved to online. There was a toilet paper shortage. The spring graduation was switched to virtual. Their world had changed, she said.

“We are completely beyond our ideas, vision — our version of what normal is,” Sprigg said. “It’s gone. It’s vanished. In my opinion, there is no normal right now.”

Leaders, she said, questioned, “How do we keep leading to make a difference, which is my philosophy to make a difference, live your purpose with passion every day? How do you do that in the absence of normal? How do you continue to lead to make a difference and lead with purpose and vision?”

Leaders can do so by being calm, confident, courageous and compassionate, Spriggs said.

Calm leaders will concentrate on the people and not the situation, she said.

“We need to strive to keep order in the face of all the chaos,” Spriggs said. “We need to maintain our balance and clarity of thought. In the most challenging situations, great leaders are going to continue to lead with passion, with energy, but they’re also going to work to remain in control.”

Confident leaders guide by compassion, purpose and self-assurance that they possess the qualities that are going to make them good leaders. Those organizations that will come out of the pandemic strong will have leaders who have confidence in their DNA, Spriggs said.

“Leaders have to be willing to make informed decisions but also to make those decisions quickly and without hesitation, with courage,” Spriggs said.

Spriggs said leaders need to remember COVID-19 is a marathon and not a sprint, and all marathons also eventually end. Run the mile you are in with courage, she said.

Leaders also need to have compassion. She said stressful situations are hard to go through alone, but it helps to have someone we can commiserate with or talk with who can feel our pain.

“I believe that compassionate leaders genuinely care about the people that they lead and therefore are willing to own a responsibility for suffering with them,” she said. “They strive to build this collaborative culture where everyone on the team can share ownership for the organization’s vision, and also helping the organization make it through difficult situations together.”

Thursday’s Power in Partnership breakfast was the last one of the series. The 2019-2020 class of Leadership Rowan graduated. Applications to be a member of the upcoming class are available at and are due June 19.

The next series of Power in Partnership will begin Sept. 17.