'There's Nothing Like a Crisis to Make You Think With Speed and Creativity' A conversation about crisis management with Sharon Greenberger, President and CEO of the YMCA of Greater New York.

By Dan Bova

Craig Barritt | Getty Images

Sharon Greenberger is the 10th President and CEO of the YMCA of Greater New York, overseeing 24 branches throughout the five boroughs that provide exercise, activity and community meeting facilities for half a million children, adults, and seniors annually.

The YMCA, like all businesses big and small, was severely impacted by the pandemic. In the weeks leading up to the recent re-opening of gyms in New York, we spoke with Greenberger about leading her team and YMCA members through this health crisis. Having worked for the Downtown Alliance during 9/11, served in the Bloomberg administration during the recovery, and worked at NewYork-Presbyterian during Hurricane Sandy, she has extensive experience managing crisis and crisis recovery. Here's how she applied that experience to the ongoing pandemic.

Related: 8 Self-Empowerment Books to Help You Take Back 2020

On leading a legacy institution

"We've been around for almost 175 years. We have stuck to the same playbook in many ways, and it has been met with community and organizational success. So getting people to think differently requires some pushing. I've tried to do a couple of things to do that. One is I come with what I would call a 'continuous improvement mindset.' I'm always asking why. 'Why do we do this? Why we've always done this? Why haven't we tried this? Why don't we look at it this way?'

And in some instances, you have to start small, think carefully about one small thing that could have a big impact. When Covid-19 hit, we had a membership model that we used for 30 years. It was an antiquated system that nobody's ever even heard of, and we just changed to Salesforce. There's nothing like a crisis to push you to think with speed and creativity. On March 16, we had closed all of our branches, and within a week we had a virtual platform up and running to keep people connected."

On having a North Star in crisis

"My North Star has always been around building community. I've done so many different things across different industries and different sectors, but it's all connected by this notion of bringing people together and improving community — whether it's physical or spiritual, for lack of a better word. That has been a driving force for me. When I worked for the Downtown Alliance after 9/11, we established and built a residential community. At the School Construction Authority, we really focused on building new schools that became these beautiful environments for children. At the hospital, it was about making patients feel safer. I don't come into places anticipating that I'm going to have to oversee moments of crisis, but 'community' is what has guided me through them."

Related: 3 Ways Higher Education Will Need to Adjust to a Post-Crisis Landscape

On transparency and optimism

"Transparency during a crisis is critical. You have to be clear on what you do know and what you don't know. You should maintain a positive outlook, but you can't be too Pollyannish about it and can't hide things.

In my book, there's no such things over communication. People are smart and want to know facts. But I do think that maintaining that optimism is important. People want to believe very much that things will improve. And so it behooves leadership to find the bright lights. The Y is fundamentally an optimistic institution, right? It believes in the potential people. We have a senior team meeting three times a week and they're really hard and we're covering a lot of really difficult topics and making some very painful decisions. So I will never end a meeting without saying, 'OK, let's come back to something, that's working something that's making us happy.'"

Dan Bova

Entrepreneur Staff

VP of Special Projects

Dan Bova is the VP of Special Projects at Entrepreneur.com. He previously worked at Jimmy Kimmel Live, Maxim and Spy magazine. Check out his latest humor books for kids, including Wendell the Werewolf, Road & Track Crew's Big & Fast Cars, and The Big Little Book of Awesome Stuff.

Editor's Pick

Related Topics

Business News

Mark Cuban's Grocery Store Hack Will Help You Score Cheaper Produce

The billionaire talked about his early days in Dallas when he was strapped for cash.

Business News

'I'll Gladly Cancel': Customers Livid as Netflix Is Reportedly Increasing Subscription Prices—Again

The Wall Street Journal reported that price hikes are set to roll out following the actors' strike.

Business News

Man Unexpectedly Wins $4 Million Lottery — On a Ticket He Almost Didn't Buy

A Michigan resident stumbled upon a life-changing $4 million lottery jackpot when his preferred game was unavailable.

Business News

These 11 Retailers Are Most Likely to File For Bankruptcy in 2023, According to a New Report

Several well-known retailers already filed for bankruptcy in 2023 — now, a new report is highlighting the retailers most likely to follow suit.

Money & Finance

Want to Become a Millionaire? Follow Warren Buffett's 4 Rules.

Too many entrepreneurs are counting too heavily on a company exit for their eventual 'win.' Do this instead.