We are living through a series of disruptions that require different leadership mindsets and behaviors than were needed just nine months ago. Many previously successful leaders are struggling, and, in some cases, others are stepping forward to fill the gap.
When we talk about crisis leadership competencies or behaviors during disruption, we are saying that the skills needed to lead are changing. In most cases, the skills that helped us reach this point will be insufficient even after the pandemic passes. So, the question becomes: What are the new leadership mindsets and corresponding behaviors?
Leaders are moving from traditional leadership to behaving more like a scientist: They don’t have the answers they need to take action, yet they are required to act decisively. The following competencies help leaders make the best decisions they can, fully understanding that they may need to course-correct:
Leaders need to focus on taking the best possible action at any time given the information they have, understanding that as they gain additional information, they will need to refine their initial responses. Humble leaders have the confidence to learn and grow.
Unwavering Commitment to Right Action
Leaders must be fully committed to taking the best course of action for the organization and, at the same time, have the wisdom to understand when to refine their course of action.
Leaders need to be able to step back and evaluate the second- and third-level impacts of their decisions. Doing so requires understanding (or collaborating with people who understand) the interconnections across multiple complex systems. The 360-degree thinker also regularly balances the competing commitments of various stakeholders.
Leaders should have developed interests, expertise and curiosity across a range of interests outside of their immediate role. These leaders have a growth mindset or a learning mindset.
Authentic and Reflective
Leaders must focus on their personal behavior rather than just their appearance. They should commit to gathering feedback and using it to learn and grow, and they should have emotional courage and the ability to maintain perspective under stress.
Inspiring leaders connect with a broad range of people across the organization to create a shared vision and spark the passion and commitment to bring that vision into reality. They act with character, empathy and compassion while remaining committed to achieving the organization’s mission.
Collaborative leaders seek input from a broad range of people in a quest for novel solutions that serve the highest outcome of the organization and its stakeholders. They understand that collaboration results in comprehensive solutions and more substantial impacts.
This competency model summarizes the leadership behaviors and mindsets that shape actions. When a leader values inspiring followers, he or she is not just following a checklist but is genuinely acting in an inspirational manner.
Training is essential to equip leaders with the tools they need to navigate times of change. Leaders need first to understand the mindsets and skills required; then, they need to build them. Often, leaders look to successful leaders from the past to inform how to develop, yet we are facing a level of complexity that most past leaders didn’t have to cope with. We are putting forth a model that describes qualities many past leaders didn’t have.
Leaders must assess where they are and use training and development to close any gaps. They can gain knowledge, build skills and hone attitudes, usually through a variety of activities, including reading, listening to podcasts, training, mentoring, coaching and work assignments.
First-time managers, promoted before or during the pandemic, have an opportunity to make an impact. Like more tenured leaders, they must start by building the required competencies, including their ability to inspire followers. If people trust them, they will join them in solving problems. They should also be authentic and reflective, sharing what they know and where they need help. People want to help, they want to be involved and they want to trust that their leader has their best interests in mind.
Leaders who master leading during a crisis do a better job in a fluid environment, whether they’re in an emergency or not. Doing a better job translates to better results for clients, higher income for the company and more stability for employees. All stakeholders in the value chain benefit when leaders are effective, and they all lose when leaders are ineffective. Good leadership isn’t a guarantee, but the probability of success goes up dramatically when leaders are successful.
Editor’s note: Don’t miss Maureen’s interview on “The Business of Learning,” the award-winning Training Industry podcast. Click here to listen.