Are Your Leaders Ready for the Challenge of a Global Pandemic?
Leadership in times of crisis: Top 6 behaviors that will enable leaders to better respond to the coronavirus outbreak.
When articulating the core purpose of many leadership roles, safety-oriented responsibilities like “ensuring safety and security of persons and operations” tend to be industry-specific – a challenge for leaders in verticals like mining or manufacturing, for example. However, the recent outbreak of the Covid-19 (novel coronavirus) demonstrates how quickly the core purpose of a role can change, and how leaders must be prepared to step up on behalf of their teams, their organizations and their societies to unexpected challenges.
In this time of uncertainty, growing concern and tangible impact – organizations are looking to the leaders of business to make critical decisions. They are also looking to their HR leaders to inform scenario planning that balances business continuity with care for employees. It’s a fitting time to reflect on the most effective individuals to take on this demanding interim role. In a seminal 2016 study of which SHL was one of the co-authors[i], data from 9,000 leaders and their 35,000 direct reports were analyzed to identify which behaviors predict success in overcoming this increasingly global challenge.
Transposed to the current Covid-19 crisis, the attributes they named were:
- Understands Others. This outbreak is not an opportunity for blame, the vilification of others or ignorance. This is a time for leaders to emphasize shared humanity and to be a role model in recognizing the people’s impact in order to respond both effectively and empathetically.
- Persuades Others. There are uncomfortable and immediate decisions being taken and enforced by leaders across the globe as I write this. Where Covid-19 cases have been identified in countries or specific office locations where businesses operate, those leaders have needed to facilitate decisive action on the ground while keeping global offices aligned.
- Shares Knowledge and Guidance. There is a need in this context for leaders to connect globally – to share support, resources and compare contingency plans. There is power in proactively understanding which responses have proven more or less effective as well as unpacking the related consequences. In a situation without exact precedent, knowledge is power.
There is a need for leaders to connect globally – to share support, resources and compare contingency plans.
- Appeals to Emotions. Although there may not yet be widespread recognition of the psychological impact of this outbreak, leaders need to be astute to a range of responses, from fear to anger to denial. When looking to convince stakeholders to take immediate, uncomfortable or even drastic actions, understanding the perspectives and motives of others will be an influential ally.
- Acts Ethically. This is a time when many organizations are heavily restricting travel and accommodating work-from-home arrangements. The financial impact has been evident across industries and in the downturn in global markets. Yet this is a time for solidarity over profit to ensure that the least number of vulnerable persons on the planet are impacted – those leaders of organizations with great influence now truly have a great responsibility.
This is a time for solidarity over profit to ensure that the least number of vulnerable persons on the planet are impacted.
- Complies with rules and regulations. Many nations have had been highly responsive in terms of tracking, containing and providing societal guidelines. Others may not have the same level of resources or information available, leaving a void in official guidance. Leaders of organizations will need to have a constant eye on these developments, potentially introduce their own guidelines where these are lacking and lead by example in following prescribed practices.
Our shifting contexts are an opportunity for reflection, and this outbreak is an important reminder of the need for preparedness within organizations. There is a prerequisite to have plans and approaches in place to quickly identify and mobilize leaders in times where the safety and security of persons or operations are under threat.
Leaders like these will not simply appear when the need arises. Rather, leaders must be strategically, thoughtfully, and carefully vetted and developed to play this role.
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