Can You Get Me Through This? Understanding the Understated Aspects of Leadership in A Crisis
I am consumed by the idea, demonstration, and study of leadership. I always thought that the ability of people to engage individuals in a group and achieve “buy-in” and use that engagement to provide direction was the definition of leadership. On one level, that is an accurate definition, however, what I have come to realize now more than ever, is that different, and in most cases, more complex circumstances often demand the more abstract and advanced traits of leadership.
With the benefit of time on your hand, you get insightful and reflective and in this instance, I firmly believe that amid a complex situation like a global pandemic, the one thing that is just as important as a vaccine, is the leadership necessary to get you through to the other side of the crisis. In taking a closer look at this issue, I became more and more convinced that overcoming challenges that impact our ability to manage a crisis is driven and defined by several elements: Intelligence, Vision, Bravery, Compassion, and Trust. These elements are the ingredients that will produce the outcomes we desperately desire. The inability of leaders to understand the importance of these traits only helps to create anxiety, fear, and a sense of uncertainty that is contagious and pervasive.
Intelligence: Being smart does not make you better than anyone, it just means you can process and consume information more efficiently than others. This skill is critical in a crisis; processing information is essential to understanding options, failing to do so limits an understanding of all the possibilities. A leader who can process and consume data usually leads to the demonstration of another trait, which is not mentioned above and that is Adaptability - the capacity to take information and apply it.
Vision: Knowing where we are taking people is just as important, given that one consistent feature of a crisis is that they usually create chaos. Projecting calm, commanding the facts and demonstrating a clear sense of direction goes a very long way to reassuring the teams, organizations, and communities we lead. While it is easy to want to get involved in the small details of executing a strategy, “someone has to be about the place, Adulting.” How else are they going to know what success looks like? This requires that Leaders provide a sense of perspective and the ability to manage expectations. The people we lead deserve information, they must understand the stakes and feeding them motivational pronouncements lacking substance is a waste of time and undercuts our credibility.
Bravery: Bravery is a straightforward personality trait, shared by most leaders good or bad. However, the true test of bravery is not when conducting business, as usual, is at stake, but when the decisions to be made are extremely difficult, a choice between bad and dreadful. Successful leaders understand the stakes and engage their teams in the process of comprehending the magnitude of the challenges they face.
Compassion: Leaders who can effectively connect and convey empathy and authenticity to people is an extremely rare skill set. However, I have found that successful empathetic leaders can demonstrate compassion through their teams once they (the team) understand the expectations of the leader and their obligations as a team member. Understanding the circumstances that people are facing and speaking to those concerns from a sympathetic place helps to inform decision making and strengthens the ability to lead with confidence and the support of your stakeholders.
Trust: What is the added benefit of any of these traits if our people lack trust in our ability to lead? Demonstrating honesty and transparency feeds the input that builds trust; people are just more willing to follow people they like and trust. As a leader by taking responsibility for our failings, while sharing our success with team members and stakeholders is perhaps the easiest way of promoting honesty and building trust.
In a standalone environment, these traits are individually impressive, however, when combined and placed within the swirling uncertainty of chaos in a crisis, they set the ordinary individual apart from the exceptional leader. Let’s be clear, not everyone is going to be, “good in a crisis” but what we should expect, and demand is that our leaders at the very least check some of these boxes. This must be a non-negotiable if we expect to get to the other side of any critical or chaotic event. By doing this we improve our ability to keep our people engaged and focused on the way forward, which is an achievement. Consequently, if after reading this you find that your leader has come up short – then perhaps this post was needed to reinforce the view that it may be time for you to step up and take on the mantle of leadership.
Sometimes, it is just like what President Obama said, “we are the ones, we have been waiting for!”