The COVID-19 pandemic brought with it a great deal of unexpected change. We are all affected in one way or another and must adapt to the new reality. I recently read on the Good News Movement Instagram page that a 101-year-old Italian man identified only as “Mr P” recovered from COVID-19 in the city of Rimini. He had survived the Holocaust, Spanish flu, and now COVID-19. Unless one has lived through life-changing events like “Mr P”, this will all be new territory and we are all learning as we go.
As we listened to President Cyril Ramaphosa on television, radio and mobile phone while he led the way through unchartered waters for our country, we realised that life as we know it was about to change. Suddenly we all had to adapt to a national lockdown bringing panic buying, being unemployed, surviving with a reduced income, working from home, using technology more often, coping with limited access to social support systems, and the overwhelming uncertainty of it all. Watching many of my colleagues, friends and family adapt to this new reality, it got me thinking about what we require from our leaders during a time of crisis. Here are my thoughts:
In order to survive in uncertain times a leader needs to be transparent. Stakeholders need to trust you as a leader to tell them the truth – even if the truth is hard to hear. Providing information assists stakeholders to plan and organise their own affairs. It also reduces unwanted speculation, which can be very distracting. The benefit of being transparent is that you will more often than not receive loyalty in return.
Being forced into working from home during the national lockdown has brought about its own challenges. Role division is challenging when trying to run a household, home-school children and perform at work, all within the same space. As leaders we need to be empathetic in these circumstances. This means that we have to understand the other person’s experience and perspective of what they are going through. Being empathetic towards stakeholders (such as employees) helps to validate what they are going through, and this will improve relationships and team spirit. Employees who feel valued and understood are more likely to go the extra mile and lend their support to the leaders and the organisation.
During a crisis, a measure of certainty goes a long way. Leaders should present stakeholders with a plan and update the plan as the situation changes. Whether communicating with shareholders, suppliers, employees, or customers – everyone will appreciate knowing what to expect, even if it could change at any time. Whether the information communicated is just communication from government, reworked to suit the organisation, or a published policy to provide guidance, or a verbal or written update, it will serve its purpose. The key is to be consistent.
Have the courage to make difficult decisions and to say when you do not know – you are trying your best despite not having all the answers. Leaders are only human and are plagued by the very same emotions we all experience from time to time, like self-doubt, lack of confidence and indecision. However, a leader will overcome these emotions by relying on their own values and that of the organisation and by not looking for validation. They need to know that a crisis like COVID-19 does not come with a manual and they must be brave enough to lead under these circumstances. Courage is an excellent quality to have as a leader and stakeholders will come to know that, despite difficult and uncertain situations, you are a person of your word. You can be relied upon, even when you don’t have all the answers, and that, in turn, will build trust in you as a leader.
I hope you can draw inspiration from the points highlighted above and apply them in your organisation.