Leadership through COVID-19: A new style

In my first post about leadership during COVID-19, I looked at the role of a leader in setting and maintaining company culture.

In this post, I’m going to look at whether a new style of leadership is emerging as a result of this crisis (and whether it will stick). 

We’re all going through a difficult time at the moment, whether that’s personally, at work, or both. People are struggling to juggle family life with work, removed from their usual support networks. We all look forward to seeing our friends and family again. For many, there’s an underlying anxiety to life at the moment. As lockdown restrictions ease up gradually in some countries, we ask ourselves about recovery, and how we can emerge from this stronger, but also keeping each other safe. 

Helping your teams navigate this new world needs a different approach to leadership – one that is more human and understanding. 

These are the things I value as a leader right now.

Show compassion and vulnerability. In almost all the video calls I’m doing, whether with work colleagues or with friends, we start the call by asking how we’re all coping. “How are you?” is a loaded question. People are opening up to each other, and showing some vulnerability in a way that I’ve never seen before. 

It would be out of step for a leader not to do the same, to be vulnerable and have genuine compassion for the people around them and the situation everyone finds themselves in. We’re all speaking to each other from our home environments, with everything that entails. Even for our team, the majority of whom have always worked from home, there are differences – sharing working space with spouses, partners, parents, children who wouldn’t normally be there can be a challenge. 

Listen to people you trust. We tend to think of leaders as being decision-making machines, but making the right decisions in difficult times means listening to the people you really trust, who represent every area of your business, from your employees to your customers. It’s not always easy, and you don’t always hear what you want to, but listening to the people around you – and then acting on what you hear – is incredibly important. 

Communicate clearly. There’s so much confusing information out there at the moment, when what we all need is clarity. If you’re making a tough decision, explain it. Your team will understand, if you tell them why the decision is crucial to the future of the business. And lead by example. 

Be authentic. To me, authenticity means being genuinely who you are, and sticking to your values. In a crisis situation, people will remember how you behaved – and if that jars with your values, that will backfire. 

Don’t be afraid to change tack. Sometimes you’ll get things wrong. If you have to change tack, own it. We all make mistakes, and at the moment things are moving and shifting so quickly that it would be extraordinary if someone got everything right all the time. If something doesn’t work, change it. 

To build resilience, you need to look after yourself, too. In a crisis situation, we often hear the phrase ‘fit your own oxygen mask first, before you help others around you’. It’s true. You can’t lead if you’re struggling to cope. That means taking time out of the business sometimes, to give yourself the headspace to think. Get enough sleep, eat well, exercise, and breathe. 

This is a time for clear leadership. To me, that means showing more of a human side than ever before.

The best leaders around the world are doing that through this crisis – and I truly hope that this new style of leadership will stick post-COVID.

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