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The leaders we need to navigate the COVID-19 storm

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April 23, 2020 | Topic: Business  
The leaders we need to navigate the COVID-19 storm

As we gradually get used to our new COVID-19 reality, daily life from just a few weeks ago now feels like a lifetime away. For businesses this has created, and continues to create, a huge array of challenges – it’s testing the architecture of our organizations and our capabilities as leaders. So today I want to share what I’ve found to be one of the best insights for managers and leaders who may be looking for all the help they can get, as they try to guide their teams and organizations through this time.

This insight comes from a friend and colleague, Efrain Pessoa, an organizational psychologist (for Spanish-speaking readers, you can see his original article here). In setting the stage for his analysis, Pessoa first emphasizes the fact that what we are experiencing is not normal, and we need to recognize it as such. Every company is now in crisis management. Even for those companies which are handling the situation well or are finding their services in greater demand, no-one had planned for this, and leaders are having to make major decisions under severe pressure.

For leaders, being in this crisis zone, challenges our usual organizational and mental frameworks. Our days are so often spent organizing, planning, directing, and controlling, that it can be hard to break out of this model and adapt to our new reality. It also changes what aspects of leadership are required – it’s no longer just our ability to rationally assess the situation, but also the depth of our emotional capital. How are we able to communicate and connect with teams and individuals, and what level of trust is there?

But what does this emotional capital look like in leaders? Here, Pessoa provides some useful examples:

  • No half-measures. Businesses need leaders who truly want to be in charge. This is not a time for half-hearted leadership.
  • Realism and honesty about the situation. While it may be comforting to say we will shortly be back to life as normal, we know this won’t be the case. Leaders need to directly address the fact that we will face difficulties.
  • A willingness to pull the trigger and enter crisis mode. Today’s leaders need to be able to shift their working model where required, and also realistically assess their company’s situation, from health, economic, and emotional perspectives.
  • Ability to bring together an effective team to navigate this unique situation. Leaders need to be able to bring together a small, core team. And they need to do this based on the skills they need to navigate the situation successfully, rather than just looking for the most senior people according to the organizational chart.
  • Prioritization. A lot of things are changing and it can quickly become overwhelming. Effective leadership is not just recognizing what is important, but also putting to one side what isn’t.

Ultimately, he leaves us with the thought that what we need are not superheroes or management gurus. In a sense this is a move away from the “charismatic” leaders (those with the “gift of grace”) that sociologist Max Weber wrote about many years ago, to those leaders who simply communicate clearly, every day with their teams. These are people who demonstrate daily their emotional intelligence. As a result, Pessoa recommends that businesses start measuring and assessing the emotional capital of their individuals and teams.

I believe this analysis provides valuable insight into how we’re seeing leaders from both businesses and countries respond. The political paralysis that we see in some countries contrasts vividly with the proactive leadership of others. It’s shining a light on those that not only lead, but also have the emotional capability to connect with others – and the tremendous value that such leadership provides.

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The leaders we need to navigate the COVID-19 storm

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April 23 / 2020

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As we gradually get used to our new COVID-19 reality, daily life from just a few weeks ago now feels like a lifetime away. For businesses this has created,...

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