Leading in a Time of Global Change

leadership in times of changeManagement is a tough job even in the best of times. In challenging times, it jumps up a rung and requires even greater adeptness. You’ve likely been swimming in a sea of how-to articles – how to help your team thrive during a pandemic, how to manage change, how to keep your remote team engaged and happy. There’s plenty of great insights and info out there, but where do you start when actually leading people? Your team members are looking to you, another mere mortal in this unprecedented time, and you need to come up with answers (and a plan)!

As a leader, you may feel overwhelmed. You may also be suffering from some serious impostor syndrome, asking yourself: why am I qualified to make decisions and take action, when even world leaders can’t agree on a common approach to exactly the same problem?

One way to feel a bit more confident is to do specific training on leading remote teams and how to manage during this crisis, as well as some standard leadership training courses. This will give you more solid ground to stand on and the security of using best practices, rather than feeling your way through the dark.

From a broader perspective, as we observe the myriad of ways world governments are dealing with the pandemic, and as a result, drastic downturns in the economy – what lessons can we learn from their successes and failures?

New Zealand Leveraged Three Key Leadership Traits

Three behaviors have been the staple of outstanding leadership during this time. These are Decisiveness, Explanation, and Empathy.

These qualities were profoundly demonstrated by the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Adern. When the virus first made landfall in New Zealand, the Prime Minister acted quickly and decisively, choosing to close the borders to the country and impose lock-down when their COVID-19 cases were at 102. The following day, the UK Prime Minister imposed lock-down when COVID-19 cases had reached a staggering 6650. As a result of swift action, New Zealand managed to eradicate the virus. Countries that didn’t didn’t impose a lock-down until cases had reached significantly higher levels suffered (and continue to) as a result of delayed decision-making.

In her article, Pandemic leadership: Lessons from New Zealand’s approach to COVID-19, Suze Wilson discusses how Adern implemented rapid action, whilst clearly explaining her decisions to the citizens of the country, showing understanding of the impact this would have on them as businesses, families, and individuals – empathy that was critical during such a potentially catastrophic time. These leadership behaviors resulted in New Zealand being considered the most successful at managing the impact of COVID-19, displaying unrivaled leadership worldwide.

In stark contrast, citizens of countries such as the UK and USA have been plagued with uncertainty, confusion, and contradictory information stemming from governmental entities and agencies. Inability to take decisive action and offer clear explanations early enough have catalyzed the impact of COVID-19 across both countries. The lack of empathy for people, families, and small businesses has affected almost everyone, leaving people disheartened and unsure.

How to Model Successful Leadership Traits

As your team looks to you to make decisions on everyday tasks, home working challenges, and the future security and predictability of their jobs and livelihoods, take comfort that you can model the traits exemplified by New Zealand’s leader. You can study and learn from Adern’s actions.

First, be decisive. If you experience uncertainty in the decision-making process, step back and allow yourself time to process what your team needs and how you can convey clarity in your explanation. Clarifying why you are making certain decision, truthfully, will ensure your team respects your decision, even if it’s not a popular one. Finally, demonstrate empathy. Everyone has gone through a roller-coaster ride in 2020 (and the ride hasn’t come to a stop yet). The good news is that this anxiety has brought mental health and self-care to the forefront. It’s an important reminder to always act with thoughtfulness and kindness, especially when difficult decisions need to be made in business.

As we approach the fourth quarter of a year we never expected to experience, take time to reflect on how you have dealt with work, family, home schooling, isolation, changed cultural norms, and the importance of communication and technology. You have successfully navigated uncharted territory and emerged with a new skill set and an appreciation that the small things are really the most meaningful aspects of life.

After 2020, we are likely to emerge as the most skilled, adaptable, resilient, and dynamic leaders in recent decades, and without this year’s trials and tribulations, we may have never tested ourselves to such a degree. So put aside the impostor syndrome and give yourself some credit – you thrived in an environment you never imagined would happen in your lifetime. Trust that you’ll come out the other side all the wiser and stronger!