Ah, the never ending gift to leadership that is covid-19. It’s sorted out the flexible, adventurous thinkers from the cautious, low risk taking. It’s promoted amazing entrepreneurship on the one hand and unmitigated fraud on the other. And it’s testing our leaders to their limits.
So what to make of the latest library of stories that are filling our newsfeeds? Ikea reducing sick pay for those who are off sick but not vaccinated? It may be OK from the perspective of their employment contracts but what does that say about its leadership? The drip drip reveal of Downing St parties which may be legal as 100 employees are apparently socially distancing in their workplace but what does that say about its leadership? 1 in 3 of furloughed young women from low-income households had their salary topped up by their employer which was great but what does that say about the leadership for the 60% who weren’t?
Coming out the other side
Will it ever end? At some point we will get acclimatised to covid-19 and it will become the equivalent of the influenza waves of previous years. At some point we might become accommodating of the financial and mental anguish it’s had on the population and normalising it. At some point the businesses that were able to survive will thrive. And at some point there will be reflections on what impact this has had on our leaders and shape the future of thinking on the qualities required of our future leaders. Even now those future leaders have been identified by others, have perhaps acknowledged for themselves their potential and are seeking a way to develop.
There will be academics and management gurus who will make a substantial living from promoting their theories and revised models of management and leadership. For now, let’s take stock and think about what we’ve already learnt and can implement.
Front and centre is the importance of humanity. Those who treated their workers as individuals, who cared for them, who went the extra mile to support them, showed emotional intelligence, are the ones who will retain the loyalty and confidence of the workforce. Even if, despite all that was done, the business or organisation went under, those who were employed will remember the humanity of those who led them which will put them in a far better place when looking for alternative employment.
Second is the importance of space, of time to process what is happening, has happened in the moment, to be present to what is around them. Working at peak levels for an indeterminate time with no end in sight massively elevated stress levels and anxieties leading to burn out and ultimately bad decision making. Those who managed to step back, even for a few moments during the day, were able to more clearly see through the fog and maelstrom of the pandemic. They were better able to determine with clarity what was needed to support their workers, their shareholders, their partners.
Third is the importance of listening without interrupting. Giving others the time and space to similarly think for themselves, to provide an environment where that could occur. Back to back meetings were/are the enemy of clear thinking and programming in as standard ‘walking the corridor time’ between Teams and Zoom meetings paid dividends for those who implemented it.
We are not machines capable of running smoothly ad infinitum. Promoting humanity in the workplace, acknowledging that we need down time to allow our brains to process our experiences; to be encouraged to think beyond our normal systems; to challenge our assumptions and release creative, generative thinking is critical if we are to navigate the waters ahead.
Today’s successful leaders, and those of tomorrow will display these qualities and hopefully show the way for everyone.
Laura Murphy blogs about things that interest her. They might not interest you but read them anyway. It might even change your mind.