Every crisis brings with it an opportunity and the global pandemic of 2020 is no different. Whether we like it or not, our legacy as a leader is being made today. The way our decisions, actions, words, and choices make those we lead feel about themselves and their futures will be remembered for a long time to come. We are unlikely to ever see our leaders, and that includes ourselves, tested in this way again during our lifetimes.
Every single one of us is a leader, whether a leader in our homes, our local communities, our businesses or our governments. We are all role models to someone else whether we realise it or not and irrespective of what it might say on your business card.
It is not too late to focus on your own leadership and seize the opportunity the disruption covid-19 has brought to choose to lead in a way that will leave a powerful, positive legacy for all those in your wake. Thinking about the world’s ‘new normal’ offers a chance for us to reimagine our ‘new normal’ way of leading as well.
The most valued leaders around the world during this crisis have been those who have been able to lead decisively and courageously with a compassionate, ethical, emotional intelligence. Sheer intellect has not, and has never been, enough. The smartest people in the room are often not the leaders you would choose to follow into a crisis.
It is leaders who are inclusive, ethical, values based, and purpose driven who are the leaders we wait to listen to each day. We trust them to have our best interests at heart whether it is in their decision making about our businesses, our schools, or our communities. It is those leaders – and those leadership attributes – we will remember and call upon in the future.
Leading with empathy
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of someone else. It means truly being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.
The pandemic has affected everyone in very different ways. While some people are enjoying the ‘pause’ from regular life, others are struggling for survival after losing their jobs and financial security. One of the many responsibilities of a leader is to understand the individual situation for every person they lead.
Never has it been more important for a leader to be able to put themselves in the shoes of others to understand what is driving people’s decision-making before jumping to conclusions that they are not performing at work or are not adapting to the ‘new normal’.
An essential ingredient for being able to lead with empathy is also to be highly self-aware so you are aware of the impact you have on those around you.
No one has been trained to prepare to respond to a crisis of this magnitude and the decisions leaders make can result in lives saved or lost. A self-aware leader is able to assess whether they are feeling anxious and manage it as best they can and not create further anxiety for the people they lead.
Self-aware leaders are also able to assess whether the way they are communicating with those they lead is having a positive or counter-productive impact, and adapt their style accordingly.
This crisis has seen us inside the homes of our leaders – there has been a true ‘bringing our whole selves to work’ – as we see pets, children, casual clothes, bookshelves. Leaders should not be afraid of this as it does not mean that we lose sight of the strength and effectiveness of those leaders we trust.
Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable – it will build trust with those you lead. What matters more is the consistency you live by, the values you lead by, and the ability you have to share good news and bad.
Leading decisively in the face of uncertainty
We are all naturally inclined to want to make decisions after we have gathered all the data and can assess the risks. This crisis has shown though that you cannot wait for information – if you wait for proof that something will work you are guaranteed to fail. In many cases, that information may not be forthcoming for some time, if at all, and those you lead are looking to you to confidently lead them forward.
Some of the best leaders in the world are able to make decisions confidently, quickly and courageously and they do so with empathy, self-awareness, and transparency.
An ability to adjust the pace of your decision making and to be able to make decisions in the face of little or no information has been a critical factor of success for many leaders in this crisis.
Leading without seeking perfection
Now is the time for leaders to set ego aside and accept they do not have all the answers and that they are going to make mistakes. Maybe quite a few. The pandemic has provided leaders with the unique situation that no one knows the answers, no one knows what will or won’t work in any given situation. We still don’t know how the crisis will unfold.
The skill for leaders to be able to make decisions and accept that some choices and decisions won’t work is incredibly important – just as it is important to be able to change course as soon as you realise that is needed. Make decisions as you need to, watch how it unfolds and as soon as it is time to change course, do so without any fear of appearing to have lacked decisiveness. Be prepared to seek advice, admit you don’t know all the answers and accept that this decision is the best one you can make right now but that you may need to change course again soon.
Dr Kirstin Ferguson is a business leader, company director and award-winning leadership expert. She is the co-author of the award-winning book, Women Kind: Unlocking the Power of Women Supporting Women and a contributor to Forbes on leadership and the leaders shaping our world. An Adjunct Professor at the Queensland University of Technology Faculty of Business and Law, Kirstin has a PhD in leadership and culture as well a Bachelor of Laws (Honours) and a Bachelor of Arts (with Honours). Kirstin has been recognised as one of Australia’s “100 Women of Influence” and was the creator of the widely acclaimed #CelebratingWomen campaign. You can learn more at www.kirstinferguson.com