There is no doubt that the legacy of every leader is being written right now as we work through this crisis. We are unlikely to ever see our leaders, and that includes ourselves, tested in this way again during our lifetimes.
We will remember those leaders who made us feel safer just as we will remember those leaders who added to our anxiety. We will remember the leaders who checked in to make sure we had everything we needed at our lowest points just as we will remember those leaders who never asked.
Every single one of us is a leader, whether a leader in our homes, our local communities, our businesses or our governments. Each day we are making decisions about how best we can choose to lead through this crisis. And every decision we make is being watched closely by those we impact.
The words of Winston Churchill are often remembered during challenging times and none more so than this particular quote from 1940 when Churchill addressed the nation –
“Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that…[people] will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’”
While Churchill was speaking to the entire country, implicitly he was also calling on each individual to think about their own contributions to the war effort. In the case of the COVID-19 crisis, I think this quote is a reminder that, as leaders, we need to hope the people we lead look back and feel that we too showed it to be our finest hour.
Even the best leaders are self-aware enough to know there are areas where they are challenged and need to develop. Therefore all leaders have an opportunity, right now, to assess their leadership style through understanding that the ‘new normal’ will not just impact the way we work in the future but also what we expect from our leaders.
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 battle and this has been demonstrated in this health crisis.
It is leaders who are 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.
It is not too late for all leaders to seize the opportunity to define what kind of leader they wish to be in the ‘new normal’. It is a time to put ego aside and to acknowledge that this is a challenging time, you have been tested beyond all previous expectations and that you are grateful for the wisdom and support of others. Ask those you lead what they need from you and then listen, really listen. Put yourself in their shoes and help them to feel safe in the new way of working as you lead them into the future.