What does competent leadership look like in a crisis?

It goes without saying that a global medical, economic and social emergency will shape the future of some governments and some organisations.

Just as global leaders are revealing their competence and influencing the human and economic impact (with varying degrees of success); so too are organisational leaders.  For history to judge leaders as successful at this time, they must also show courage, direction and agility.

When we are bombarded with seemingly endless amounts new information about threats, risks and mitigation strategies, it is easy to feel that things are out of control felt. For some, that out of control feeling can grow into anxiety and fear. For some, it will manifest in panic or depression.

Without strong organisational leadership, staff are more likely to feel powerlessness and loose confidence in their leaders and/or in their organisation.

Organisational leaders cannot control the virus, nor can they control government responses and restrictions.  They can however control how they lead their organisations through this time and the imperative for leaders to practice competent and compassionate leadership has never been greater. I add the word compassion here because a leader cannot be competent without being compassionate (see Why compassionate leadership is good for business)

What competent leadership looks like in a crisis.

One of the reasons we feel out of control is because we don’t know what is happening and what the future will hold.  While this may be true, some things are known and even if the news isn’t good, fact is better than fear.

  • Competent leaders are transparent and tell the truth to their staff.  They provide regular updates about the impact the pandemic is having on their organisation and the threat that it represents.
  • Competent leaders create a shared sense of purpose. They share how they are working to get through the immediate crisis and avoid long-term harm.
  • As scientists study the virus, new information and new advice emerges. Competent leaders explain what the need to be flexible in response to the changing information.  Staff must be assured that their leaders are agile enough to pivot with new information.
  • Competent leaders check in on staff by asking about their welfare and sincerely listening to and caring about the answers.

Over the past few months we have seen some global leaders respond with frank clarity and decisive action. These are the leaders in whom we have confidence and respect.  We have  seen other global leaders flounder with confused messaging and inconsistent and sometimes contradictory decision making. These leaders will not be envied or emulated. 

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