We are in the midst of a global crisis, the likes of which many of us have not seen in our lifetimes. We have been projecting disruption for a few years based on technology and geopolitical conditions. Now we add to the anticipated disruption the unexpected pandemic. Leadership skills that worked during gradual transformation no longer work during the massive crisis. Leaders must refine their skills and, in some cases, retool how they lead entirely. This article addresses the skills required to lead during transformation.
1. Professionally Humble. Leaders are committed to the organizational mission as the primary decision-making criteria. As I talk to leaders, they talk about focusing on various criteria. If we focus on the organization’s purpose, we gain insight into how to balance key stakeholders’ expectations to clarify the actions we can take to survive in the short-term and thrive in the long-term.
For one restaurant chain that is structured to be cost-effective for in-store dining but not carry-out, they decided to shut down during the initial stay-at-home order to preserve their brand and manage their cash. They are planning to reopen when people are allowed to return to restaurants. Most of their staff will receive unemployment benefits at the increased rate, allowing them to survive the pandemic. They let their company mission drive the decision about their best step to stay in business short-term and hire as many of their staff back as quickly as possible after the stay-at-home orders are lifted.
2. Unwaveringly Committed To Right Action. Leaders can stay the course because they balance short-term and long-term thinking. Back to our previous example, the restaurant company made a swift decision to furlough employees so employees could get unemployment and at the same time, the company could preserve the brand. For a company that has strong ties to the community, these kinds of decisions take genuine care and difficulty.
3. 360-Degree Thinker. The leader understands cross-organizational impacts — striving to understand the interconnection across multiple complex systems and make highly informed decisions, considering implications across the broader context.
To return to our example, the restaurant owner needed to consider:
• employees’ income and physical safety
• ability to get supplies/food in the future
• reputation and brand
• impact on the overall community
• the future of restaurants and how soon people would return to eating out, with a vaccine perhaps as much as two years away
• impact on landlords and cost of rent
• the technology that allowed some employees to continue to work from home for administrative functions
• and many other factors
4. Intellectually Versatile And Curious. Leaders take a particular interest in political, national and international development. The pandemic offers a poignant example of why leaders need to think beyond their industries.
The actions of political leaders directly impact our restaurant’s ability to get access to financial assistance. The leaders are also paying attention to how other countries affected by COVID-19 earlier have responded to coming out of lockdown.
5. Highly Authentic And Reflective. Leaders seek feedback and discussions in uncomfortable situations. When companies are facing decisions that will change the trajectory of their entire business and possibly industry, the leaders need to be open to having difficult conversations about critical decisions.
Our restaurant owner gathered input from team members, members of restaurant associations, suppliers and political leaders before making a final call on when to shut down. These conversations were quite challenging, as he had dedicated his life to this company, and it was now facing a set of terrible decisions. The pandemic has reduced several people to choosing between choices they never imagined making.
6. Inspires Followership. Leaders can diffuse conflict without avoiding or side-stepping the source of the conflict. Given the decisions leaders are making daily, they need to navigate the feelings of their employees that range from anger to resentment to fear, among many others. The leader needs to be authentic and still inspire others.
Our restaurant owner took the first actions by closing restaurants and laying people off. Next, he needed to identify a go-forward plan and enroll people in creating the future they want to see while operating with massive unknowns.
7. Innately Collaborative. A leader creates solutions to complex problems by creating new approaches that didn’t exist, pulling together constituents in new ways and creating broader and more creative alliances.
While we don’t know what our example leader and leadership team will create, we see that they are collaborating across their industry and with others in many different industries. By tying the 360-degree thinking competency with collaboration and intellectual curiosity, they are working across multiple sectors to identify the best approach given the current situation to meet the needs of their employees, customers, community and funders, among others.
The leadership skills that many leaders relied on to be very successful in the past were proven insufficient to meet the challenges they face during the pandemic. Leaders now need to create a new normal out of what is happening in several industries and sectors. Some communities are seeing significant fatalities, while others are seeing primarily economic disruption. When the crisis is over, and we see the impacts, leaders who demonstrated these behaviors have the highest probability of creating outcomes that are as positive as possible, given the challenges they face. Some will find paths to create opportunities that would not have existed before the pandemic, and others will try to regain a viable business. Wherever you are on the continuum, we hope you can minimize the health and economic fallout and find a path to success again soon.
This content was originally published here.