By Haylie Marchant, Haystac Head of Strategy
There has been no shortage of lessons learnt from living and experiencing COVID-19. It’s been an unprecedented time for all Australians, and for those who are lucky enough to still be working, they’ve no doubt experienced a significant disruption to their usual work lives.
For some this could simply be working from home. For others, it could be having to innovate in order to deliver their services in a COVID-appropriate way. For many Australian businesses, it could be traversing the sensitivities of job cuts or reduced working hours in order to help the business survive in the long term. Whatever the individual situation is, how an organisation’s leaders actually lead throughout these difficult and delicate times, I believe, is what will ultimately determine the success of the organisation over the long term.
And herein lies the significant opportunity for our future leaders:
While your work life might be pressured right now, the silver lining is that you are currently living and working through a PhD in leadership. Each and every day, whether within your own organisation, or the political landscape for example, there are numerous examples of highly effectively leadership, balanced with examples of let’s say, less effective leadership. It’s up to you to take a step back, observe and critique, and ask yourself this very important question – which leadership styles resonates with you and what sort of leader do you want to be in the future?
For me, there are four fundamental pillars of effective leadership during times of crisis.
1. Clear and consistent communication:
During turbulent times, organisations want to hear from their leaders. This is not to say they always have to have the answers (yes, it helps), however a regular flow of clear and concise communication goes a long way to helping employees feel both informed and engaged, which is especially important when times are pressured.
For a masterclass in clear and consistent communication, view any number of Jacinda Adern’s press conferences. There is never any ambiguity as her messages are always clear. And if I’m honest, I don’t think SCOMO has done too bad a job during COVID-19 either. Putting aside the confusion around state versus federal messaging, I do think he’s been pretty effective at delivering clear and consistent messages to the Australian public. Well done Scotty.
2. Display empathy
Put simply, speak from the heart. This is not the time for scripted messages nor corporate narratives. Yes, you may have an organisational message to deliver, but do so in a way that is natural and authentic. Don’t just be the boss, rather, be a human.
Of course, I could highlight any number of Jacinda’s examples, especially during the Christchurch mosque massacre, but let’s not have this entire article about her. Instead, while not COVID-related, let’s turn our attention to Liberal MP Andrew Constance. During the bushfire crisis, the NSW Minister for Transport and Roads became the ultimate people’s champion as he fought the fires on the front lines, while also fighting for his constituency. The reason he was so effective at leading during this time is because it was authentic. The empathy was unquestionably genuine, and he always spoke from the heart.
3. Reinforce the importance of people:
The ‘people message’ as I like to call it, is especially critical during times of crisis. For people to be able to dig deep during difficult or disrupted times and still perform at their best, they need to feel valued. So, while you might have difficult business decisions to make or tricky corporate messages to deliver, balance this with reinforcing how valued your existing workforce is. People are the lifeblood of any organisation and without them, most organisations simply wouldn’t have a business.
During the early days of COVID-19 I was continually impressed with Coles Chief Operating Officer Matt Swindle. He was no doubt exceptionally busy doing his usual day job, but he was also a regular on breakfast television providing regular updates on what the supermarkets, or Coles for that matter, was doing to address the panic buying phenomenon and ensure the shelves remained fully stocked for Australian shoppers. And in every single interview he gave, he always reinforced the importance of his people and thanked them all for how hard they continued to work for the Australian public. I’d say well done to whoever media trained him, however I suspect this was an entirely genuine message which is a true testament of his leadership.
4. Engage and inspire your teams:
Your teams need to have faith that you can lead them through the crisis; and to remain motivated, they need to be both engaged and inspired. How you do this will depend entirely on your business but fostering a sense of team and encouraging innovative thinking is one way to get people excited. It’s this sense of excitement and feeling of ‘we’re all in this together’ that will help carry an organisation – and its employees – through difficult times. And those who do this well, I believe, will not only survive the crisis, but fundamentally thrive post COVID-19.
And while this particular example goes back a few years, we could not discuss inspirational leadership without highlighting one of the most iconic leaders and famous orators of our generation – the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama. While the effectiveness of his Presidency continues to be debated, what cannot be debated is his natural ability to inspire, unite and motivate not only a nation, but vast expanses of the globe. And while we’re currently in the midst of a global pandemic, I think it’s fair to say that we could all use a little Obama magic these days.
So, my message to all of those aspiring to climb the corporate, or any ladder for that matter – use this time effectively. Recognise the lessons that can be learnt by taking a step back and observing your leaders during this crisis, whether that’s on the political stage on within your own organisation. Use this time to earn your PhD in leadership and shape your future leadership style.