Lessons in the Lessons: Business and Sociology

Mountain with words

There are lessons within the lessons taught in biology to literature to philosophy classes at Western Oregon University. And each lesson can provide us with guidance, insight and knowledge during this uncertain time.

Today at WOU asked faculty to share with students and employees some perspective from their subject matter to help us navigate our new normalcy since the coronavirus (COVID-19) has currently disrupted the patterns of our daily lives.

Their words can help us to chart a course to gracefully rise to the challenge and learn valuable lessons from this moment in history. Here is part one of a three-part series with interviews from Paul Disney and Sue Monahan.

Business and Economics

Paul Disney, an adjunct professor in the Business and Economics Division, offered leadership advice on how managers can guide their employees during the coronavirus crisis.

Words on a sign
We can look to our past to guide us today.

Disney advises people in leadership roles to be exceedingly human, persistent and creative.

“Crises provide an opportunity for people to come to know one another and establish bonds that will endure long after the crisis is over,” Disney said.

Leaders should demonstrate their concern for the fears and anxieties that their staff is experiencing, not only professionally and economically, but socially and personally, he said.

“Even though you don’t have definitive answers to all their questions, don’t let that keep you from listening to them and empathizing with their fears,” Disney said. “And, contrary to conventional wisdom, you should not be hesitant to share your own concerns with your people. They want to know that they can relate to you, and that they are not alone in their concerns.”

When people are isolated, communication is more important than ever. “No one will look back at this time and say their manager was annoying with all the encouraging emails checking in on me,” he said.
He cautions managers to avoid seeming cold or impersonal or trying to do business as usual.

“These unprecedented times call for you to stretch beyond your normal comfort zones and be even more vulnerable than usual,” Disney said. “Six months from now, you’ll look back and be glad you did.”


As a sociologist, Associate Provost Sue Monahan often thinks about social capital, which is a kind of productive capacity that rests in communities, not individuals.

“When communities have shared norms, dense networks of interaction and high levels of trust, they are able to mobilize that social capital towards solving problems,” Monahan said. “When those things are missing, we are hard pressed to do anything effective as a group. I believe that social capital in the WOU community is strong.”

Let’s keep the lessons going. If you would like to share your thoughts, please email Kristine Thomas.

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