It’s at times like we are currently experiencing, where the entire world is combatting the coronavirus pandemic and where economic activity has collapsed, that the spotlight focuses on our political and business leadership. Entire nations are fearful as they struggle to contain the spread of a deadly virus; they are fearful also because entire economies have shut down and entire workforces are not working.
As nations struggle to overcome the worst impact of the coronavirus pandemic and as they begin the long struggle to rebuild national economies, the quality of leadership will have a large bearing on the capacity and success of nations to overcome these twin threats. Authentic leaders with genuine personal values, whose ethical standards define their actions, will be the most likely to prevail.
Ethical leadership is provided by authentic leaders who have ethical beliefs and values which focus on the dignity and rights of others. They use their power and authority to serve the greater good instead of self-serving interests. Ethical leaders have a high level of integrity and trust, and have a clear set of moral values which underpin their value-driven decisions. They display genuine concern and respect for others.
Faced with the chaos caused by the current pandemic crisis, the need for ethical leadership in business and politics has never been greater. Exceptional leadership is needed at times of crises and with the remorseless expansion of the coronavirus pandemic across the world we are all seeking leadership which gives direction and hope. In times of crises people want truthful answers, clear guidance, firm action and hope for the future.
Effective crisis leadership interprets what is happening in a time of uncertainty but also focuses on containing the threat while offering reassurance. People must have trust in those that lead them and must know that their leaders are doing what is best for the greater good. They must know that their leaders have strong ethical values and that they live by them in the service of the common good. This is important because it evokes confidence, trust and loyalty. Ethical leaders are guided by principles of right conduct and those who show moral leadership will focus on what is right for their country or organisation. This is what people crave most when they are fearful, threatened and insecure.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic normal life has not only been curtailed, it has been deconstructed. There is a massive crisis in health, economy and society. Social and commercial norms which were collapsed in days may take years to rebuild. In a re-shaped world we will have to adapt to a new norm.The challenge will be to re-imagine a better and more sustainable future after the health crisis has been contained. Ethical leaders who lead with genuine integrity and who make decisions based on right moral values are what we require to lead us back from the abyss and create a better future for all.
Moral ethical leaders set standards and provide values and meaning for people to live by.Their focus is on what is right for the organisation and country; they put people at the centre of major decisions. Such leaders are easily recognisable; they are driven by purpose,;their priority is to serve, protect and improve the lives of those they lead; they are driven by a strong moral code. They demonstrate clear ethical values and give meaning to those values in the manner of their leadership and by their own actions in leading their nations or organisations.
We need effective leaders with strong values when facing a world crisis as we have at present. History will measure the success of our political leaders in tackling the massive impact of the coronavirus on our health, wealth and wellbeing. The coronavirus pandemic is the greatest test of political leadership since World War Two and the pandemic crisis will likely cause a recalibration of what leadership means.
The fortunes of some political leaders have been transformed by the current health crisis. The honest and straight-talking German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has seen her approval rating rise to over 80% as her honest and swift action rallied her country behind her efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Likewise, New Zealand’s Prime minister Jacinda Ardern has won the admiration of the world for the manner in which she tackled the virus pandemic by keeping related deaths (currently) to less than 22. Ireland’s taoiseach ( prime minister), Leo Varadkar and his party have seen a boost in public support because of the effective management of the coronavirus pandemic in Ireland.
Meanwhile, the USA has become the new global epicentre of the pandemic with more coronavirus cases than anywhere else in the world. President Trump initially played down the virus, misrepresented the facts, devalued the medical expertise and more recently has fermented protests in some states. He is seen as a leader who divides, not unites , yet what is most needed is a leader who can unite the nation in a time of crisis.. He has classed himself as a wartime leader but falls far short of the greatness of previous renowned wartime leaders like Washington, Lincoln and Eisenhower.
America’s post-war global leadership role has been eroded by Trump’s “America First” policy but also by his blame-games and finger-pointing as a tactic to shift the focus away from his leadership woes. He has questioned the value of NATO, pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord, pulled out of the nuclear agreement with Iran and pulled funding from the World Health Organisation. America’s president has not united his nation and is not a collaborator internationally as his leadership appears to have significantly diminished America’s global role.
(Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash)
Our world today needs leaders who can inspire confidence and co-operation nationally and internationally. We need honest, truthful leaders to make sense of what is happening. We need leaders who display calm control, inspire confidence, think strategically, avail of professional expertise and communicate truthfully and persuasively. They must be agile and open to change and have clearly identifiable core values to which people can identify.
In the business world we need leaders who are truthful and act ethically, especially at a time when we have the largest labour force shift in history, with sudden massive job losses and unprecedented levels of unemployment.At a time when the challenges seem overwhelming we need innovative leadership with strong ethical values.
We cannot change what we have experienced but we can change how we view our experience of dramatic and shocking change.We deal with chaos in different ways as we try to address the physical, emotional and financial impact of an event like the current pandemic crisis. We have generally experienced a variety of emotions such as fear, anxiety, anger and frustration but eventually we progress to a stage of acceptance. We may grieve the loss of a previously somewhat predictable future for an entirely different future, caused by a world-wide catastrophic event. But there are emerging opportunities if we adapt to the new circumstances and we accept a new, but yet unknown norm. We must learn new ways as we rebuild and plan for a different future. We must innovate and learn from change and we need astute leadership to manage significant societal change.
Leaders need to be courageous and accept than mistakes will be made if they act quickly. Corrective action and not assigning blame is the way to address mistakes when they occur. The most successful political leaders have initiated bold action and clear guidelines to tackle both the virus pandemic and the reopening of their nations’ economies. Those leaders who took the boldest actions at the earliest opportunities are those currently who have the greatest public support.
Such leaders have displayed tenacity and conviction as they acted with urgency; they have displayed the values associated with ethical leadership such as respect, honesty,humanity, courage, humility.They have led their people through daily sacrifices as they united to overcome the deadly coronavirus. They did not hesitate to communicate bad news but rather communicated with stark transparency an honest and accurate description of reality. People can handle the truth and follow a leader who has proven to be honest and trustworthy and who is seen as providing the best hope for a better future.
The best leaders have shown genuine empathy as they connected with the suffering of their own nations. Ethical leaders have led with empathy and acted in the best interest of all the people as they seek the best path forward to a better future. Crises of historical proportions always deliver exceptional leaders. History will eventually show who were the heroic leaders of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic crisis. Be assured that those with ethical values and principles will be top of the list.
A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way- John C. Maxwell.
(Feature photo by Engin Akyurt on Unsplash)