I have been watching how the world has and is responding to the COVID-19 crisis as it unfolds.
This crisis and the ever-changing nature of it, is uncharted territory for all of us. There is no playbook for how to lead through this crisis or how to lead through a pandemic. And the consequences for businesses, organisations, the economy and society will play out over the rest of 2020 and beyond. One thing we know for sure, is that we need brave, courageous, compassionate and adaptive leadership.
In my day to day, I work with leaders and organisations in developing Adaptive Capability so that they can survive and thrive in the 21st century economy. There is no doubt that I have been reflecting on this for some time. But in recent weeks however, I’ve been observing how leaders are adapting and responding to COVID-19 – a true test case for Adaptive Leadership.
Some are thriving under this type of pressure but it is also very evident that there are many floundering in this time of unprecedented change and uncertainty.
So, what actions can you as a leader take to lead effectively through COVID-19? Here are some suggestions:
1. Educate Yourself: This means going beyond watching the news. Listen to what the experts around you are saying. Keep yourself informed by reviewing credible sources of information so that you are ready to make appropriate, timely and evidence-based decisions for the benefit of your organisation and your employees. The ‘World Health Organisation (WHO)’ and the ‘Centre for Disease Control and Prevention’ Website provide pragmatic sources of advice on how to protect yourself and also offers interim guidance for employers and businesses.
2. Take a Human Focus: Take a moment to recognise that our true work is not our job. Our true work is to look after each other, to protect each other and to be of benefit to one another. As a leader your true work is to ensure the safety – both physically and psychologically – of your employees. Be compassionate, empathetic, remain connected and take the opportunity to strengthen your employee community. Remember that in crisis, true character is revealed and that your leadership will be defined by how you respond to this pandemic.
3. Prioritise and Plan: Define a clear set of priorities at an organisational level that will act as a guide in making tough organisational decisions as the landscape changes. It is important to ‘think global and act local’ by building plans that are as detailed as possible for as long as possible, while at the same time recognising that things will change, and remaining focussed on your day-to-day and week-to week game plan. Leverage and empower the expertise and creativity of your workforce to help you solve for these problems and implement solutions in alignment with your priorities.
4. Communicate early, often, clearly and simply: Be the trusted source. Don’t wait till people start to make things up because of a lack of information - communicate early. There is nothing worse for employees than a leader providing contradictory and unclear information – be clear about your priorities and the actions you expect your employees to take. Rather than a communication plan, think of it more as an understanding plan. The emphasis should be on what your employees hear and understand, not on the action of communicating.
5. Tell Stories: In times of uncertainty, storytelling builds unity and community. It enables meaning making, it builds connection and it communicates humanity. The human spirit is capable of amazing things in times of crisis, so capture the details and tell your people about these extraordinary efforts.
There is no doubt that this unprecedented crisis and period of unpredictable change will be classified as one of those moments in time that changed the world forever. It will continue to disrupt millions of lives for the foreseeable future.
There is perhaps one silver lining to all of this – the opportunity for leaders to reveal their true character, to lead with a human focus, to create cohesion in the face of adversity and to leave a leadership legacy.
What will your legacy be?
Silke is a member of ICF Australasia. She holds a postgraduate MSc (Coaching Psychology), and specialises in Leadership Coaching, Adaptability and Organisational Change.