It is a tough task leading people right now but there has never been a time to test your leadership credentials. Just imagine when the dust settles and your team, followers, direct reports, constituents and colleagues look back and attribute the survival to your guidance and leadership? Imagine how that will boost your self-esteem and leadership muscle. That is how leaders around the world should think right now; but the real work just got started.
Leaders across the world, be it in the private or public sector, have a common enemy staring them in the face in the form of a deadly pandemic; Covid-19. It is time to inspire and manage the anxiety of the led. So, when the “going gets tough, the tough gets going” right? Right.
It is time to take up the mantle of leadership and access the capacity to instill a collective sense of where the organisation is and the confidence and hope to move forward into an uncertain future. Leaders have through the years during uncertainty provided stability, path to recovery even when there seemed to be no light at the end of the tunnel. And some current leaders are also doing pretty well. Dr. Sam Adeyemi, Prime Minister Jacinda, Governor Babajide Sanwoolu for instance are leading the way. Some leaders have also exhibited good leadership during tough times and uncertainty such as Ernest Shackleton, President Abraham Lincoln, and Alan Mullaly.
They have been or were brutally honest with their followers and they only expressed a modicum of their fears to a select few so as not to unsettle the team. They also ensured they celebrated the small victories along way, focusing less energy on what was out of their control. What a leader regardless of the size of the team or task at hand, should begin to do is include a number of actions discussed below.
DISPLAY OF UNCRUSHABLE HOPE AND HONESTY
Woe to the leadership that still operates a “silo” thinking model, where information is either used as a weapon of defence or attack . Early during the pandemic, came a barrage of “predictions” from “thought leaders” on social media, webinars; majority doomsday like they could really accurately predict what was going to happen in the next few weeks or months. I usually encouraged the few that consumed such content (usually small business owners) and became anxious that “anyone that could not predict the pandemic is only sharing his or her opinion and the steps you take right now will either validate or make a mockery of such early and arrogant outbursts.”
Effective Leaders must help people around them through the uncertainty and stress of the crises ahead. First, relay all the facts and ensure everyone is informed. A leader at times like this will process, sift information and help followers make sense of the situation. An effective leader should also share information on the strategy they are working on right now and how others fit into the current plan, so everyone feels involved and engaged on collectively navigating the crisis.
At the end of the day, people get the work done, so make them understand fully what is going on and that they are part of the solution. That is why a leader’s communication must be honest, with clarity, inspirational and inclusive.
Take for example Prime Minister Jacinda Arden, who outlined a clear, serious and pre-emptive strategy for dealing with the novel virus. she was brutally honest in her remarks, made information available, responded in a timely manner without keeping people on tenterhooks. Her address to citizens of New Zealand have been consistent, unfurled with clarity, empathy and, also very important, specifics.
RESILIENCE, FOCUS, COURAGE MIXED WITH EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE
Eschew pride completely and show a lot of courage and resilience. Some of the resources at your disposal may be tangible resources such as liquid cash, manpower while some may be intangible, such as social skill, empathy, courage, resilience and imagination. The application of both resources will do you a great deal of help in navigating through uncertainty, battling fear and anxiety within your ranks and beyond. Imagination fuels innovation and it will not come where fear and anxiety take center stage. As a leader, you have to deal with it.
For Abraham Lincoln, during the Civil War, his unwavering focus was on garnering support to end slavery and keep the state of the union intact. For Babajide Sanwoolu, it is all about balancing the drive to flattening the curve of the virus, avoiding chaos and keeping the economy of the state afloat. For Alan Mullaly, it was about courage and dedication to bring Ford Motor Company back from the brink of bankruptcy despite a lot of pushback for the transparent and rigorous process he introduced. Mullaly later recalled “process is the foundation. It provides a fantastic window on the world- the whole team knows everything that is going on.”
Emotional intelligence allows you to put yourself in people’s shoes and connect with them. Sam Adeyemi, a renowned preacher and Leadership Guru, would empathise with participants during a webinar on hearing they had lost their jobs due to the pandemic before suggesting ideas for a rebound. Again, Prime Minister Arden showed the way with regular empathetic Q& A sessions interacting with the populace and announcing a 20% pay cut for the next 6 months in solidarity with citizens that lost their jobs during this pandemic.
LET THE ENERGY IN THE ROOM FLOW
As a leader, particularly during a crisis, you want to be careful not to share your own worries or anxieties with just anyone. What do I mean by this? I’m not suggesting you pretend like all is well. Look, the stakes are high and you do not want your followers assuming they are on the wrong ship led by the wrong captain. It is ok to share a few that does not undermine your capacity and authority to lead, but ensure that at the end of the day, their belief in your leadership is rock solid. Like Shackleton during the Antarctic expedition, even in the bleakest of times, he always focused on the positives, kept his team engaged and paid attention to the energy levels. He only confided in his deputy his worst fears and discussed how they would approach the situation.
Get the team focused on the task at hand not your leadership credentials. That is a distraction you can ill-afford. If they can sense doubt and fear in their leader, they may not want to listen or follow you for long.
BE IN CHARGE OF THE SITUATION
Your followers response to your lead is dependent on a few things; what you know, what you say and what you do. People are watching your every move, verbal and non-verbal cues. Imagine a leader sending mixed or misleading messages, talking about safety protocols but does quite the opposite once he/she steps off the podium. That can only spark anxiety, distrust and fear amongst the ranks which will sooner rather than later slip through the cracks beyond your caucus. Your knowledge of the situation, your position and action will help people think — not only rationally, but also intuitively and instinctively. It will be a sigh of relief that a leader and his or her people understand what’s going on, know what they’re doing, have a plan, and that they actually care. So, you need to show up and put on a virtuoso (not acting) without allowing the public, press or the organization to sense your doubts.
THINK IN A ROUTE-FINDING MANNER
It is perfectly normal during high uncertainty for you not to be certain of the final outcome. It is one step at a time but ensuring the mission is in plain sight. So, as a leader, your position is to manage the process as it comes from a certain point to the next point. Governor Sanwoolu for example could not have foreseen the spike in cases of infected persons the first day he addressed the state regarding the virus, or the need to set up multiple isolation centers to cater to confirmed cases. But he has been able to navigate through the tough period, taking a strategic decision one moment at a time. In essence, engaging and involving stakeholders at all levels and encouraging speedy and informed decision-making is what effective leadership is made off. With looming anarchy, and potential breakdown of institutions, Sanwoolu has had to take a tough decision to partially reopen the economy knowing fully well its benefits and drawbacks. And he has not made that decision without letting everyone know he is not afraid to revert to status quo should things escalate.
Letting people know that during a crisis there is no one size fits all approach or concise path to recovery will ease a lot of tensions. Explain as much as you can, delegate because you need people busy solving problems not idle thinking of worst-case scenarios. Sanwoolu constantly reinforces the dual mission of keeping people safe and offering people credible hope. His message is clear; These are unprecedented times but we will emerge victorious.
IDENTIFY & COMBAT YOUR OWN FEARS, STRESS
Being a leader does not make you exempt from feeling what your followers feel. A pandemic unsettles everyone. All of a sudden, you’re expected to reach out to more people than usual, depending on your level even do press conferences daily without taking days off. It is your responsibility to manage the process. Find out what it is that makes you release your inner tensions, fears and anxiety. It could be anything from exercises, confiding in a spouse or relative, delegating more or speaking with a mentor. Effective leaders find whatever it is that will help them release their fears, and do it frequently to stay grounded. Barack Obama never skips his early morning exercises and also relies on family time for instance.
CELEBRATE THE SMALL WINS
Sanwoolu will start his press briefings with the good news such as “with so much joy and pleasure in my heart, I hereby inform you …. that we have discharged 5 people’’ and will usually end on a note of appealing to people to cooperate with government efforts or reiterate his confidence in emerging victorious at the end of the tunnel. Great leaders always find victories, no matter how small, to celebrate. Shackleton always found a way to keep his team’s spirits on the high whether it was through food or light hearted conversations.
What is the point of all this? The crisis will pass but what impression will your leadership give? How will people remember you, companies, parastatals you led during this period? One thing is certain, people will remember which leader did what and which organisation did that. Leaders, need to be mindful of this. People are watching and taking notes. The suggestions above are by no means exhaustive but noteworthy.
Kudos to effective leaders all around the world in the private sector, public sector, NFP organisations, business owners amongst others. Leaders like New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Dr. Sam Adeyemi, Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwoolu and others may be taking all the spot light but you dear leader, your work is definitely not going unnoticed. Well done.
Thank you so much for this.
Thank you sir!
You’re welcome sir. And happy birthday to you.
Great contribution to the discourse The Slim Frank White.
Leaders mettle will truly be tested. Winston Churchill too was a permanent source of succour for the British during World War 2.
I couldn’t agree more.