Redefining your leadership style in a crisis

Who could have imagined the real-time leadership test and on-the-job development that leaders have had over recent months as a result of COVID-19? In this blog I’ll be looking at leadership during the ‘COVID Crisis’ and how leaders can redefine their leadership style when leading during a crisis.

Take a pathogen that creates global biological warfare leading to a humanitarian and economic crisis, overlay this onto digital transformation, leading to re-structuring, demands for new ways of working, increased cyber-risks and we seem to have ‘The Hunger Games’ leadership style.

I have been fascinated with identifying executive potential and developing it for many years, since making it the focus of my Masters dissertation research.

It’s no wonder that OD and HR professionals choose to work with great leaders. Leaders are a fascinating group of people but even the most hardy and battle-worn leaders across the sectors still need to assess and develop their leadership style in an ever-changing environment.

The impact that COVID-19 has had on the economy and businesses the world over, requires leaders to adjust to meet the new needs of their people, teams and organisation and having an adaptable leadership style may well determine the survival, for those most willing to update their leadership approach.

Furthermore, employees and teams are looking to their leaders for compassion and understanding and to lead in a way never seen before, during a time of great uncertainty and concern about the future.
Now, some would say their leaders are infuriating and perplexing. Some would even say their leaders are terrifying. However, leaders can create great feelings of unity and togetherness amongst their ranks, especially when it’s clear they are working hard to alter their own style.

However, no matter what employees feel about their leaders, they should feel their leaders are inspiring – if our leaders don’t inspire us, why would we follow them?

So, what inspiring leadership have we seen?
Can a new generation of leaders just ‘stand up and stand out’? Can they sense the time is right for a new type of leadership – more humane, humble, open? Can they take see this crisis as ushering in an ‘era of creative destruction’ that allows for new learning and even reinvention?

Many of the leaders I have spoken to lately have learned a great lesson from leading through this current crisis. One such leader I spoke to recently said: “This will be the case study of the future and while we are in it, we need to make the most of it.”

Another said: “It could just be that COVID was the best thing to happen to this business. It has freed me up from decisions I thought I’d never be free from.”

The real question for many leaders is – can you lead in a way that is effective in a new paradigm?
We have found leaders of all levels of experience – when encouraged, and we have encouraged them – are talking about a redefinition of leadership. Some are seeing that the role of the leader has shifted – to connect, to guide, to care, to share.

Encouragingly, they ‘get’ that engagement has now flipped and now realise that ‘they work for us – we don’t work for them’. We are not out of this crisis yet. Leaders continue to face huge challenges and massive opportunities. There will be winners and losers in the economy – but there will be some wonderful stories of growth and pivoting. We are an economy where our SME’s significantly outnumber our plc’s – but our plc’s are the source of far greater private sector employment. The public sector is under cost pressures and has never been more important.

So, the question for all leaders is, will you assess, develop and redefine your leadership style to meet this new world, which incidentally hasn’t finished changing? Every leader and every leadership team matters. Survival – evolution of the species – suggests they need to.