The COVID-19 pandemic has placed demands on leaders that are above and beyond anything that they may have expected. For many, it has been the ultimate leadership test.
Being able to adopt a typical crisis response may have all but gone out of the window as it became clear that Coronavirus was not another routine emergency, and that what may have been considered the “norm” suddenly was not normal. Lockdown, furlough, managing teams working remotely, restructure and cost-cutting – all great tests of leadership capability. Having the ability to make quick decisions, unforeseen roadblocks and scope change.
In these unprecedented times of crisis, leaders need to rely on a number of key attributes that will allow them to navigate themselves and their businesses safely through. This is a time for quick and decisive decision making, war rooms and clear priorities. Leaders also need to demonstrate resilience – the ability to weather the storm and ensure that they and their businesses and employees could survive through a crisis.
Post-Pandemic Leadership Attributes
Is there a place for this bold leadership in the post-pandemic world, or is this now a time where other skills come into play? For me, it is similar to when you look at wartime and peacetime political leaders. Different attributes are required to drive businesses and employees in a different way towards new goals and sometimes through unchartered territory.
In this post-pandemic world, we are adapting to new ways of working. As many people are still working from home, they are looking for leaders to connect emotionally with them and to behave with empathy and understanding. Peoples’ lives may be touched by tragedy and loss, and there will be a feeling of uncertainty about returning to work. People will continue to be affected in many ways by the pandemic, and leaders cannot be agnostic towards this.
In times of uncertainty, leaders must ensure that they communicate accurately and on a timely basis to their employees, not only because a lack of office working leads to a lack of communication, but also because there will be uncertainty in terms of the future of the business. This is a time to quell the rumours or to confirm the bad news pre-empting the rumour mill, and with this, a leader must also demonstrate humility. “To err is human” and as we all find our way through the coming months, questions may be asked at any level of the organisation that may require an answer of “I don’t know”. As Forbes Magazine points out, that takes a strong leader to respond to a difficult question with that answer.
Leaders need to actively listen to their employees. Not only may their employees have concerns about issues such as personal safety and wellbeing. Conversely, they may be the source of innovative suggestions such as different and effective ways of working or innovative approaches to solving workplace problems. Leaders who actively encourage two- way dialogue with staff and positively respond will find that this will help with future success.
Leaders need to be flexible and adaptable to changes. No one knows what will happen next with COVID-19, but one thing is for certain, this won’t go away, so business strategy needs to be flexible enough to react and adapt quickly to change. The need to be nimble and innovative and open to new suggestions now and in the months to come will be extremely important. Certainly, any delay to the need to adapt could lead to poor decisions and negative repercussions on the business.
This isn’t mutually exclusive
There are many other leadership traits that will be required, and conversely, some of these traits are also required in times of stability or crisis, they are not mutually exclusive to a post-pandemic incident. However, they can be difficult skills to master. These are often considered the “soft skills” or “nice to have skills”, and are about creating cultures of empowerment, motivation and relationships, but in these unprecedented times, they will be absolutely vital at every level in the business to ensure that we get through this period together.
Sue Rees is an expert C-Suite executive search specialist with over 25 years of experience in Pharma, Biotech, Lifesciences etc.