We hear a lot about the ‘new normal’ in relation to the way we will live, socialise, work and communicate after the pandemic ends.
Like most challenges, this also means we have an opportunity to think about a ‘new normal’ approach to leadership. There are many lessons we can learn from strong, effective leaders during this crisis and apply it to our leadership styles now. Not in the future. Not even after the pandemic.
Whether we like it or not, our legacy as a leader is being made today. The way your decisions, actions, words and choices make those you lead feel during this crisis will be remembered for a long time to come. It is not too late to focus on your personal leadership and to seize the opportunity to lead in a way that will leave a powerful, positive legacy for all those in your wake. Fortunately, thinking about a ‘new normal’ is a chance for us all to reimagine our ‘new normal’ way of leading as well.
Powerful leadership examples
Early in the health crisis, Arne Sorenson, Chief Executive Officer of Marriott International, gave a five minute speech to his global staff which was candid, vulnerable, humble and emotional while balancing that with a decisive path forward and a sense of reassurance, for those who are being led by him, that they will see this crisis through together. Sorenson showed himself to be a leader that was resolute and courageous and able to combine that with a massive dose of transparency and emotional intelligence.
Adam Silver, Commissioner of the National Basketball Association (NBA), made one of the first high profile decisions to suspend a major sport when the 2020 basketball season was cancelled very early in the pandemic. He made that decision in the face of great uncertainty – the virus had not yet reached the United States – and at a time when you can imagine there would have been many stakeholders counselling the NBA and Silver against making such as significant financial decision without much more information.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is often seen at the podium making strong decisions about the fight against COVID-19. Yet at the same time, she is prepared to be incredibly authentic with an example being a Facebook Live session she held answering questions from New Zealanders while sitting on her living room couch, wearing her sweat pants, having just put her toddler to bed. Jacinda Ardern is the type of leader who confidently and comfortably adapts her leadership style without any loss of respect by those she leads. Quite the contrary, her authenticity and transparency earns trust.
Five opportunities for all leaders
So what do these examples mean for us and what opportunities can we seize as leaders now as we think about our ‘new normal’?
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.
This pandemic has affected everyone in very different ways. While some people are enjoying the ‘pause’ from regular life and are happily baking bread at home, others are struggling for survival after losing their jobs and financial security. One of the many responsibilities of a leader is to understand that 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 – knowing what is going on for them – for example, before jumping to conclusions that they are not performing at work or are not adapting to the ‘new normal’.
The next opportunity for all leaders is truly practice becoming highly self-aware so you are aware of the impact you have on those around you. This is a skill that all leaders should aspire to build given it is also an essential ingredient to being able to show empathy.
Whether you are a leader who has been leading your country, your business, you community or your family, every leader in the world would have had moments when they would have felt anxious, scared or overwhelmed by this crisis. 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 through responding to those they lead with frustration, anger or despair. 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.
Decisiveness 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 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.
Be prepared to accept failure
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.
Adapt your leadership style
This crisis has seen us inside the homes our leaders – there has been a true ‘bringing our whole selves to work’ – as we see pets, children, casual clothes, bookshelves of our leaders. 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 adapt your leadership style to the situation. What matters more is the consistency you live the values you lead by and the ability you have to share good news and bad.