The COVID-19 crisis has significantly changed the role of leadership in organizations, affecting not only the functioning of any given system. The life experiences of many executives have not prepared them for this VUCA (unstable, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) crisis.
A static system will not work for leaders in the current state of affairs due to the huge amount of change and the prevailing uncertainty. Instead, leaders need a systems approach nimble, relevant and accurate. They cannot rely on their previous leadership abilities; they need a new compass to be able to move into these unprecedented times. They need highly qualified coaches who specialize in leadership in times of crisis and recovery.
When uncertainty and ambiguity are high, people seek answers from their leaders. Here are seven strategies that effective leaders use in these circumstances:
1. Give a clear direction
In times of crisis, leaders owe their people a clear sense of direction, even if visibility is poor. Their attention can be focused on the short term, which along with regular updates allows them to respond to constant and rapid changes.
2. Focus on people
Leaders need to take the human factor into account more than before. They have to manage people like people. Because their employees are concerned and insecure, leaders should actively offer support, encouragement, and participation.
3. Find a coach
Leaders need to discover their own humanity and bring it with them to work – for many leaders, for the first time. They need to find in themselves those “soft zones” that allow them to connect with team members outside the crisis. Such a scale of change is almost impossible to achieve without help or guidance, and here’s where coaching can help.
4. Be transparent
In times of crisis, leaders can build trust by providing transparent and frequent information about what they know and what they don’t know. Employees are not children from whom leaders must hide a grim reality. They are adults. With the right information provided at the right time, they will develop a trust that is now lacking in the world.
Leaders can also evoke hope in such times, but it must be open hope, without deadlines. No one knows how long the pandemic will last, so it would be a mistake to give hope with a deadline (“it will be over by summer”). If this term was wrong, it can damage morale and weaken psychological resilience.
5. Develop self-government
Leaders must set an example by taking themselves beyond their own worries and uncertainties. In times of crisis without self-governmentmanaging others is difficult and almost unethical.
Self-government in unknown turbulent waters is a process that begins with the selection of leaders to uphold their principles or values. They go beyond their own limitations and difficulties to express these principles and values, and they have set for themselves a clear direction and vision. Only then can they offer this direction to the people they manage.
6. Take care of your team
Leaders need to help their team members overcome their fears so that they can become successful employees again. They should legitimize people’s concerns, not put them against it. Great leaders such as Churchill, Gandhi and Mandela are examples of this leadership trait.
7. Learn to be a true leader
True leaders lead people from where they are, to where they know they can be. With the right executives, employees grow and develop, reaching new heights of achievement. Not everyone who is nominated for a leadership position is a true leader. True leaders are constantly learning and evolving and seeing potential greatness in themselves and others.
As structures crumble and businesses are disrupted, we need such leaders as never before. They will guide us through change and uncertainty.