How to be an effective leader during a crisis

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Written by Ben Hunt-Davies on 14 April 2020 in Features
Features

Ben Hunt-Davies leads us through a time of crisis.

There is no doubt that the role of the CEO and the various ways they need to be more effective is evolving. During crisis time a focus on this is needed more than ever.

There is no one single route to becoming a business leader but accelerating your career doesn’t require an elite MBA or a select mix of inborn traits. Rather, it requires a willingness to make lateral, unconventional, and even risky career moves. It’s not for the faint of heart. But if you aspire to top leadership, you might as well get used to it.

Handling change

To cope with the speed of change, today’s leaders may need to partially unlearn or relearn some traditional ways of thinking. My leadership definition is ‘inspiring others to achieve exceptional performance’. So, the emphasis is on the continuity of gathering a team of highly effective people around the leader and ensuring they perform in their roles.

It’s the continuity of what leaders have always done but tailored to quicker speed of decision making and understanding the new rules of employee commitment and engagement. It also includes responding to faster economic variables as well as competition by requiring a ruthless focus and clarity on what is most important for the business and the people involved.

Knowing how to lead virtually is becoming of greater importance for today’s leaders, especially as almost all of us are now working remotely during this crisis period.

What is likely to change for many, is the necessity of bringing more of the wider organisation with them as they go through this period of unprecedented change.

There will nearly always be strong reasons why those at the top will stay on board for the journey ahead – supporting attempts at continuity – but what about the levels beneath? It’s vital to boost the morale of the entire workforce through these unprecedented and difficult times.

Communicating correctly

Knowing how to lead virtually is becoming of greater importance for today’s leaders, especially as almost all of us are now working remotely during this crisis period. To do this most effectively, leaders can develop a set of team guidelines, referred to as ‘virtual team rules’, that become the behaviours for their teams to adopt and live by as everyone develops a new way of working.

These rules are created by the whole team, so you gain collective buy in and are reviewed weekly to ensure the team hold each other to account.

A leader needs to rely on those around him during a crisis – they can’t try to do it alone. This means regular support and progress check-ins with direct reports are more essential than ever. Daily on-screen discussions will help to allay fears, build momentum and belief that together the business will emerge from the crisis intact and ready to thrive.

Truly effective leaders know what floats the boats of the rest of their employees so they can get clear on how they can motivate, develop and support them for the greater good of all concerned.

 

In times of change the role itself may be tough for many employees but if teams are clear on the role they have to play in the greater good of the organisations AND are being developed and coached to greater levels of individual performance, then their motivation and morale will rise.

Showing charisma

The new ‘good’ or the most beneficial traits of today’s leaders need to come from the less tangible areas of leadership. Most leaders will be comfortable in the ‘doing’ part of the job, the more traditional aspects, but it is the ‘being’ part that is differentiating the good from the great.

Those in charge today must blend a range of behaviours and styles, some of which at first glance might seem diametrically opposed, namely:

  • Vulnerable, yet confident.
  • Adaptable to change yet fixed on the key ambitions.
  • Articulate in large groups, even better at 1-2-1 small stories.
  • Being good listeners and willing to let others contribute.
  • Always finding time for self-reflection whilst managing a constant barrage of meetings and demands.

You can’t be all things to all people, but these behaviours and techniques are critical in creating an open, motivated and optimistic culture where the authentic self of the leader can be on show no matter what the situation. This is key to leveraging the very best qualities of those around them.

 

About the author

Ben Hunt-Davis, MBE, Olympic Gold medallist, is co-founder of leadership consultancy Will It Make The Boat Go Faster.

 

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