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The Eight Roles and Their Validity During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The Eight Roles and Their Validity During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Perhaps as you were watching me talk about those eight leadership roles, you wondered how they might apply to the COVID-19 crisis. Maybe not, but as I mentioned before, or while I like to understand theory and research, I’d much rather understand how to put the concepts into practice. So here are a few comments on how each of these leadership roles might have become important during the COVID-19 pandemic. The first is encourage a proactive crisis culture. The most important benefit of a proactive crisis culture is that it helps organizations overcome the, it can’t happen to us syndrome. An enterprise with a proactive crisis culture also makes sure that the urgent doesn’t always get in the way of the important.
On a daily basis, there always seem to be more urgent things to do than worry about safety or set aside some time to talk about what happens if this COVID virus has an impact on our business. I know finding time to focus on the important and not the urgent is very difficult. The business practices that had become the norm at most organizations don’t provide much time for anything but the urgent. Perhaps it’s unfair to look in the rearview mirror and suggest that we should have done more to prepare for the pandemic.
But I’ll still make the argument that organizations with proactive crisis cultures tend to be better at letting the evidence drive their decision-making as opposed to their instincts, and finding a better balance between focusing entirely on the urgent and focusing on the important. The second is to establish and enforce standards and processes. As I mentioned previously, in safety and security critical industries, there tend to be strict standards and processes that have been designed to keep stakeholders safe. Organizations focused on safety and security spend more time preparing for crises. They are better prepared to scan their environments for signs of trouble. Organizations not as focused on safety and security tend not to be so focused on these processes.
Irrespective of the extent to which your organization focuses on these things, the COVID pandemic has taught us how important it is to have established standards and protocols for things like remote work, virtual meetings, collaboration technology, employee health and wellness, and the list goes on. The very best organizations are able to find the resources and support necessary to prepare their organizations for a crisis. We now have a greater appreciation for the importance of these preparations. Third is prioritize and set an example. In my mind, some of the most beneficial takeaways from the COVID-19 pandemic are the lessons we have learned by watching the behaviors of our leaders. Many of these leaders, business and community alike, have been incredible examples.
Perhaps you’ve seen or worked with some of these leaders. They demonstrate care and compassion for all those they oversee. They understand the decisions that must be made for the short, mid, and long-term health and welfare of their people, as well as for the success of their organizations. They don’t claim to have all the answers and they don’t pretend to be perfect, but they do rely on data, evidence, and those who do have expertise. These leaders know how to set an example. Fourth is properly assess the full range of risks. The COVID pandemic has been an incredible illustration of how difficult it can be to truly understand the full spectrum of organizational risks.
The nature of the crisis environment makes it very challenging to have all the information a leader would want to have for a clear picture of all of the potential threats. So in these situations where an unforeseen risk has appeared on the short range radar, exceptional high-stakes leaders find a means to explore and process the full extent of possible exposure. For most organizations, this means starting with the senior leadership team, pulling them together, taking an inventory of how everyone is feeling, what they’re thinking about the situation, and how everyone around the table believes the enterprise should proceed.
When a situation like the COVID-19 pandemic presents a problem that has been previously given very little thought, this is where senior management as a whole needs to step up as a team. No single leader will have all of the answers. In fact, it’s quite possible that none of the leaders will have any of the answers. To fully assess the full range of risks in a situation like this, the leadership team needs to come together, determine what they know and what they don’t know, and develop a plan for getting the information they need to effectively navigate the crisis. The fifth role is promote open and upward communication. This is very similar to the last item, but with an internal focus.
Your internal stakeholders, your employees, have remarkably sensitive threat radars. Make it clear to them that they must serve as your frontline crisis detection unit, and that you’ll do whatever it takes to create mechanisms for the safe and effective communication of warning signals to the senior leaders who can act on them. Also, once an enterprise finds itself in the midst of a crisis, the open and upward communication is critical to staying in touch with the status of the workforce. How is everyone doing? What needs to be resolved? How was our crisis response plan working?
The relationship between senior leadership and the organization’s front line with as much free-flowing communication as possible, will never be more important than it is during a crisis. The sixth is build relationships before the crisis. Once again, the COVID pandemic is one of many crisis types that highlight the critical importance of strong relationships with stakeholders. As a stakeholder yourself, what relationship did you have with your leader before the crisis? How did this relationship inform your interactions with this leader during the early and mid stages of the pandemic? If you could turn back the clock to a time before the pandemic, what would you do differently in your relationship with your immediate supervisor?
What would you do differently with the members of your team? In both cases, well, we can’t turn back the clock, we can always make the effort to implement some changes going forward. The seventh is be ready to deal with the news media. While you may not interact directly with the media in the normal course of your job, consider how many regular citizens, not just governmental or business leaders, have appeared on camera during a newscast. If you found yourself with a camera and a microphone in front of your face, what would you say about your company, your team, the efforts underway to help all of your stakeholders navigate this tragic crisis?
Your readiness to answer these questions is what this leadership role is all about. The eighth and final role is encourage a learning environment, and share experience. You have experienced the COVID pandemic firsthand. I hope that you were spared the loss of a loved one or some other particularly difficult outcome. Sadly, many were not spared. But when we emerge from this crisis and we will, what will we learn? What changes will we make? What can we do to make sure the next pandemic, or for that matter, the next crisis of any kind, is better managed, better lead? If we don’t learn from this experience, perhaps we’ll be forced to repeat it.
I, for one, hope never to have to experience something like this ever again.
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High Stakes Leadership: Leading in Times of Crisis

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