Differences between good and bad leaders are easier to observe in challenging times. The leader’s response to the crisis is more than the segregation of duties or giving orders. The form and content of the messages transmitted can, at this time, play a key role in gaining employees’ trust and their willingness to cooperate. For a leader, it’s time to make themselves credible in their role. This is a chance to reflect, what kind of leader they want to be.

While state leaders are trying to stop a pandemic, ordinary people watch how their group leaders respond to this unusual test. The COVID-19 explosion has threatened millions of people around the world, and a leader in the workplace has a chance to save some of them. And while the nature, scale, and consequences of the threat remain uncertain, one thing is for sure: some leaders will cope better with the crisis than others.

It can be safely assumed that certain leadership qualities will play a significant role in the effectiveness of their decisions and the shape of the results. Thanks to them, the leader will minimize the effects of the crisis and successfully lead their team through it.

For the leader, a crisis is a chance:

  • to assess the previous work structure and adapt organizational methods to the current situation;
  • to explore how to be more open to employees, especially those who face other challenges;
  • to learn how to manage the company and people in an inclusive and empathic way.

How to take care of employees’ trust

In addition to the obvious difficulty of choosing a course of action, the leader faces the task of gaining specific trust of the group members. As a result they must also convince them of the rightness of his decisions. A leader’s lack of openness may arouse distrust, which will diminish the credibility of his leadership.

He should also take into account the problem of social distance and the loss of a sense of security. Employees may want the leader to show greater compassion and understanding to inform about the company’s situation. It is worth knowing how to convey the hope that “together we will manage the crisis”, even when it’s impossible to predict everything. If this is achieved, people will feel noticed and heard.

How to build the right message

During the crisis, the importance of the message increases, especially in terms of its coherence and readability. The leader must create the right narrative that explains the problem and unites the group if he wants to reach a consensus and go through a crisis without bigger troubles. It is crucial that messages do not contradict one another. Its content may even be more important than actual decisions, at least in the context of group acceptance.

Employees will not believe in a positive message if the leader is not transparent about the negative

The leader does not have to know everything ad hoc. It’s good if he can admit he can’t predict something. Recognition of uncertainty will improve their credibility. Everyone needs a positive message, but they will not believe it if the leader is not transparent about the negative. And when it comes to actions, the leader should carefully assess how much he can rely on cooperation through persuasion. Moreover, they should consider whether to move to more rigid command and control – a choice that can fight off resentment or even aggression if it is taken with sensitivity and caution. 

4 key leadership competencies during the crisis

The likelihood of successfully going through a major crisis will largely depend on four key leadership competencies:

  • Intelligence

It’s not about IQ or emotional intelligence, but about cognitive and intellectual abilities. The world today is largely data-driven, so leaders need to use facts, logical reasoning, and evidence-based decisions. This feature also applies to adaptability, so the group is in good hands if the leader proves to be intelligent in the face of threats.

  • Accurate threat-sensitivity

It is said that leaders should be calm and composed, but giving a false sense of security can be harmful when facing danger. Then it’s much better to have leaders who are a bit pessimistic than optimistic or overconfident.

  • Courage

It seems obvious that leaders need courage to act effectively, but the importance of their courage will become apparent when they face difficult dilemmas, such as choosing the least harmful option among many bad or negative alternatives.

  • Trustworthiness

The previous qualities are useless without trustworthiness – the obvious advantage of leadership. The leader will not cope with the crisis when he loses the confidence of the group. And although people are sometimes wrong when they decide to trust a leader, they are usually right when they see that he cannot be trusted anymore. The crisis is a good test.

Leader! Look at your yourself

If you are a leader, your ability to lead and move through the crisis will be higher, the stronger you are in above qualities. Therefore when you manage people with intelligence, vulnerability, courage, and credibility, probably those who rely on you now should feel safe. However, it is worth knowing that a high level of all these features at the same time is not the norm and belongs to the exceptions.

So what can you do to expand your capabilities? Humbly accept that you are not as good as you should be. If you do not have the intellectual abilities to deal with the cognitive challenge, appoint those who have it. Create an intelligent team of people who base their decisions on data, have the technical knowledge, and can make wise decisions.

Remember: your credibility and reliability are in the eyes of the observer. While you act honestly and show consistency between what you say and what you do, you help others understand your reasoning and behavior.

How to introduce integration behaviors during the crisis?

1. Ensure that everyone has equal access to remote work technology

It is always important, but now it’s crucial when access to technology can affect employee performance and integration with the group. As a leader, don’t assume everyone has the necessary equipment. Also, remember that employees have different performance. If you want them to show an equal level of productivity, make sure that everyone has access to a permanent internet connection, the right software, and hardware. Appreciate when more and more people are adapting to the new standard.

2. Create for everyone equal opportunities for expression

Speaking online can be harder for some people than at a personal meeting. Send information in advance to give time to prepare those who do not speak quickly and freely. During the presentation, turn on closed captioning so that everyone, including people with hearing problems or defective Wi-Fi, can fully participate in them. It’s worth using the chat function so that everyone can ask questions and comment. Make sure everyone can hear and understand each other.

3. Begin by recognizing everyone, not only senior positions or seniority 

Before immersing yourself in the meeting points, accept the unprecedented situation that everyone finds themselves in. The leader can set the tone by sharing his challenges and weaknesses. Your team will appreciate it. At smaller meetings, check out how everyone is doing.

4. Notice the people with greater life challenges

The leader should be aware that the crisis affects people in different ways. For many, this means worrying about loved ones, caring for them, and extended family. Their barriers may also be the lack of access to private space. Give them time if they are sick or looking after the sick. Spot employees who are older, weaker, mentally weak, and family members at risk from the virus.

5. Show empathy for working parents

Offer them extra support and give them extended deadlines. Show understanding when their children are interrupting your online meetings. Also, remember that women bear a greater burden of responsibility for a child, family, home, which is a natural phenomenon, and especially during a pandemic. In the period of remote work, watch out for language in the assessment of employees with children, mainly concerning their efficiency and reliability.

Summary

It would be good if people didn’t have to choose between a leader for untroubled times and a leader for hard times. The basic qualities of good leadership, namely competence, empathy, and credibility, are universal and always respected, unlike their alternatives. However, the benefits of great leadership (and the costs of poor leadership) will be compounded when real challenges arise.