I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts – Abraham Lincoln.
When written in Chinese the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity – John F. Kennedy.
Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better – Harry Truman.
I quote these three US presidents not just because of their insights into real leadership but also because of their personal leadership qualities. These quotations are most apt as many nations emerge from the pandemic crisis and set about rebuilding broken economies. Those leaders today who have been honest and transparent with the facts about Covid-19 are most likely to have been the most effective leaders. Those leaders who have vision and commitment can inspire others to action. Those leaders who show courage and tenacity are most likely to successfully transform their nations’ economies in the post-pandemic period.
The twin challenges of mitigating the worst impact of the coronavirus and regenerating economic activity are the greatest tests of leadership for decades. In the words of the United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres- “The coronavirus pandemic is the worst global crisis since World War Two”. It has generated a worldwide crisis with no obvious endpoint in sight. It has generated fear, uncertainty and ambiguity. It is a time for challenging leadership which warrants leaders of courage, transparency and vision with a strong hand on the tiller who can steer people through a storm of uncertainty towards a calmer and more assured future.
This requires leadership with a flexible mix of styles and qualities. Adaptive leadership adapts with agility to a changing landscape by adopting flexible responses to challenges. Adaptive leaders have keen emotional intelligence; they can recognise and manage their own emotions and those of others. They value the views and opinions of others and are prepared to adapt and change their responses to the challenges they face. They are both creative and transparent.
Empathetic leadership also has a significant role to play in this time of worldwide crisis. Such leaders display high levels of empathy, compassion and sensitivity to the needs of people and these are necessary attributes in times of crisis and fear. Because they understand people’s concerns and perspectives they more readily build trust, earn respect and bond more easily with those they lead.
Transformational leadership is also needed to drive change and transformation where new responses are required to meet new challenges. Transformational leaders tend to be visionary like strategic leaders . When driving change they focus on the big picture, are very inspiring and passionate. They lead out on the implementation of their vision and can generate influence by inspiring loyalty and trust. Their tenacity and drive can transform teams, economies and political systems to perform better.
In times of crisis or significant challenge people look to strong leadership for a crisis management plan. They need leaders they can trust and who have a clear vision of how to respond to a vastly changed operational environment. Genuine leaders will communicate a compelling vision with conviction and will recruit followers who will also embrace their vision with committed support. In times of uncertainty people want their leaders to be confidently proactive about both purpose and mission. They expect their leaders to bring their vision to life and to live out their purpose because people expect actions as well as words.
No one leadership style will suffice at a time of crisis. Leaders need to have empathy with their people; they need to quickly adapt their responses to changing circumstances and they need to act with determination and conviction in any transformation process they pursue. Vision, mission and strategies must be constantly communicated because leaders need to share purpose and understanding with followers. Smart leaders share knowledge, tell the truth and build trust by consistent, regular messaging. To lead with conviction in times of crisis, leaders need to act with resolve and show courage because it is courage which distinguishes the best from the rest.
As nations, communities and business entities try to navigate unprecedented uncertainties it is clear that people need to be assured as well as inspired. People can most easily connect with leaders who show they understand their fears and anxieties but who also provide some assurance of a better future. Trust, once earned, can be maintained by implementing a clear strategy and securing some early wins. Leaders may acknowledge an uncertain future and embrace their own vulnerabilities but they most certainly need to show courage and act with conviction as they seek to shape a better future at a time of unprecedented uncertainty.
During the Covid-19 pandemic we have seen both inspiring and failing political leadership. New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern has shown tremendous leadership because she has real empathy with her people. She acted courageously and decisively to lock down the entire country and lock out Covid-19. She was widely trusted and is now widely respected because she acted out her mission with firm resolve. In some other nations there are poorly performing leaders who have diminished public trust because they have lacked transparency, acted indecisively and failed to consistently communicate any credible strategy to address the pandemic crisis. If not completely broken the bond of trust between the people and leader was damaged.
Trust is the foundation stone of good leadership. If there is no trust there can be no followers. When people feel vulnerable and afraid the best leaders are those who are adaptive, show empathy and are strategically focused on solutions to problems. A leader is a dealer in hope- Napoleon Bonaparte.
Empathy, adaptability and strategy are also vital in the world of business as trading companies emerge from government lock-downs, implemented to protect public health. Technology has become the survival kit for businesses which rapidly enhanced their online digital presence to offset offline losses and thereby maintaining customer engagement and support. In a very volatile operational environment good business leaders quickly embraced the new realities exploited new opportunities to align with customer needs by selling goods and services directly online through a variety of digital platforms. Online marketing strategies have been tailored to best resonate with customer needs.
In order to survive lock-down and to maintain viability, business leaders needed to re-calibrate their marketing profiles online to quickly align with rapidly changing customer behaviour. This demanded a fundamental change in business model which accelerated a shift from main street trading to online sales. As the current pandemic fundamentally changes customer behaviour, virtual shopping experiences will become more prevalent.
Many business leaders have had to quickly rethink the virtual world while also accommodating, in the medium term, the new reality of in-store social distancing. They have responded to local conditions by remodelling shopping experiences to accommodate health and safety procedures . A revisionist approach is being adopted to high street shopping in order to make it a positive experience under more difficult circumstances. Restaurants, for example are promoting safe-haven restaurant experiences to protect personal space while shoppers in major stores will see wider aisles and more open spaces.
The shock of the pandemic crisis is serious but not catastrophic. Good leadership will adapt and scenario-plan for a variety of different futures in a post-pandemic world. The measure of intelligence is the ability to change, according to Albert Einstein and good leaders are always open to fundamentally changing responses to accommodate different challenges. Adaptive, empathetic, strategic leadership is best suited to accommodate new realities as it combines emotional intelligence with strategic thinking to lead a change process while leading people. Such leaders are courageous through conviction, steadfast through uncertainty and innovative through disruption, as their commitment and passion shapes a better future. In a heavily disrupted world they are re-framing the definition of success. Difficulties mastered are opportunities won – Winston Churchill.
(Feature photo by NOAA on Unsplash)