If it’s one word that has been repeated many times in 2020 it’s this one. Leadership from governments to guide us through fires, floods and now COVID-19. Leadership from business to steer us through unstable and volatile economic conditions. Leadership from within our communities to keep us all united and safe during these times.
It’s easy to be considered a great leader through the good times. Much harder through the bad. But it’s in these difficult times that we look to, and value, leadership more than ever. It’s also when we can see what really great leadership looks like and how we can take these learnings in shaping the way we lead.
We asked Brad Fox, our Non-Executive Chairman and previous CEO and President of the Association of Financial Advisers (AFA), to share his insights on leadership in light of the challenging times we currently live in.
Show your true face
The single most important attribute for great leadership at a time of crisis is authenticity.
It’s times like we are experiencing now with the COVID-19 pandemic that strong leaders stand out to us like a lighthouse in the oppressive dark of night. If we reflect for a moment on the world leaders that we see in the relentless daily newsfeeds, there are examples that cover the spectrum from great to capable, and to downright disappointing.
Of course, what we all see of these figureheads on the TV is their ‘performance face’. But it’s easy to see right through this when a so-called leader says one thing, but their actions, tone and body language says another. The result is that their message will fail to generate belief, confidence, commitment, or establish a vision that we can buy into. Ultimately, we don’t trust them if we don’t believe them. In business this can be disastrous, leading to a lack of direction and integrity in the workplace.
You need to bring honesty and your true character – not a ‘performance face’. It takes real courage and bravery to look your team, your board, or your country in the eye and admit to the truth of the situation. It’s only from this position of truth, supported by empathy for those that are being, or going to be, affected that you will be granted the respect needed to lead effectively.
A true leader leads
Effective leaders set the tone. They establish and share a vision about how we will get through the tough times; and they must, by definition, attract followers. If no one is following you then you aren’t leading.
And a great leader is able to translate the complex into a simple, easy to understand message. As world-renowned researcher/storyteller Brené Brown says, “Clear is kind; unclear is unkind.”
But how do you lead when all you want to do is curl up in the foetal position, or hide in your office, or stay in bed, or simply walk away because of feeling overwhelmed by the scale and complexity of the issues?
Brown also found from her research that in order to be a leader, you need to let yourself be vulnerable. This goes against the perception of many people, some who call themselves leaders, that vulnerability is a sign of weakness.
It’s actually a sign of strength.
Vulnerability allows leaders to display real courage in adversity, compassion for themselves and others, and a genuine connection with the people they are leading.
Think for a moment about New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern. She has shown true strength of character, vulnerability, honesty and unquestionable integrity both through the Christchurch Mosque shooting crisis of 2019, and now through the 2020 pandemic. She is a mother, a wife, a daughter, a friend. She’s not a super-hero; and she’s not afraid to show us her true self.
From what is reported, Jacinda eats well, exercises, meditates, and plays with her nine-month old daughter Neve. My bet is she successfully partitions part of each day to be only about her own state of mind, her health, and her important close relationships. Every leader needs to do this if they are to have the energy needed to lead effectively.
Be kind to yourself
We have never had to work and live like this. There’s no rulebook, so if you’re going to lead effectively, you need to give yourself a break. It’s not going to be perfect. It’s not all going to run smoothly and to plan. And that’s OK.
Take a breath. In fact, take a few.
Keep breathing slowly and deeply until you are calm enough to realise you are not a super-hero, or super-human. This gaining of perspective about what you can and can’t control is the foundation stone of being a resilient leader.
So that means approaching things with a different lens. It can’t be all work and no play which can be such a temptation if you are working from home. It’s okay to turn the computer off and put your phone on Do Not Disturb and have some time to yourself, or with your family, and friends on-line. Even during the workday. Power naps at lunch; a walk around the block; a phone call to a mate for a laugh, or to a parent in isolation – they can each help you maintain equilibrium.
And help you lead with empathy, authenticity and effectiveness.
Don't lead alone
In these times of social distancing and isolation, leaders must be very deliberate in spending time with their team, their peers, their coach or mentors, and their family – and not necessarily in that order. More than ever before leaders need to reach out to receive the support of others, both at work and at home.
It’s been my experience as a leader that bunkering down to try and solve complex problems on your own does not work. It’s not intellectual brilliance or thinking more that will pull a family, a company, or a country through a crisis – it is authentic, empathetic leaders that have the courage to be truthful, decisive, and clear in their communication that will carry the day. It’s those that develop a culture of sharing the challenges and finding the opportunities that will be remembered as a great leader in times of crisis.
So, reach out. Involve others in your decision making. Isolate physically, but not mentally. We can get through this together. And please remember that if you need our help as part of your leader-support network, our team at Tribeca is here for you.