In the article https://www.personneltoday.com/hr/is-good-leadership-different-during-a-crisis, the question is asked by the author, Duc V. Trang: “Is good leadership in fact different in a crisis situation than that in periods of no crisis? Or is it simply a matter of degree?“
Think about it. If we were to outline what an effective leader does in “non-crisis” times, what would we say? Some critical behaviors and traits of effective leaders include the ability to:
- Define strategic direction
- Prioritize and focus resources
- Inspire organizational confidence
- Eliminate complexity
- Reflect and model core values
- Provide transparency
- Create partnerships with outside suppliers and customers
- Embrace, decipher and act on quality information
- Encourage agility to manage environmental challenges
Whether talking about customer challenges, raw material shortages, new product launch resourcing, difficult supplier negotiations or implementing large, strategic shifts, leaders are constantly under pressure and stress to manage through change under “normal” business conditions.
All that really happens in a crisis, such as the COVID-19 virus pandemic, are the leadership behaviors become magnified. If a leader exhibits the above traits during “normal” business, s/he is much more likely to exhibit them during a crisis.
- If a leader is not transparent during “normal” business operation, will s/he radically change during a crisis?
- If they don’t model integrity, trust and impartiality during standard business operation, what makes us think s/he will suddenly embrace those values?
- If there is not clear strategic thought, prioritization and investment into core businesses during more stable business environments, what would make us believe s/he will do so during a crisis?
So, if good leadership is not situation dependent, but requires foundational skills and behaviors that help define a culture and can be implemented in times of stability as well as times of crisis, what can companies do to seek & develop these foundations? Here Are Three Critical Steps:
Prioritize the EQ Examples, Experience & Results. So often when a business is seeking a leader (functional or general management), the extreme focus is on whether the candidate has proven IQ skills in a specific category. For example, if a company in the snack bar category is recruiting, they will want someone who has specifically done the following for significant time within the category of snack bars: Negotiated a deal with a customer? Demonstrated digital marketing skills? Oversaw a plant or warehouse operations?
Question: How many people do you know who have only worked in one category, or with one set of products or services, in their entire life? I would submit very few, and Gen Y and Gen Z are more and more comfortable moving to different jobs, which means that number is only going to get smaller.
What you want to focus on are transferable skills. Yes, you want to understand if they have negotiated with customers, whether they have digital marketing skills and whether they have plant operations capability. But change the emphasis in your search to instead focus on the EQ (at least 60% of the interview/recruitment) and get into specifics about how they think, what drives their understanding, who they’ve sought for counsel and where/when they have collaborated. The toughest task of assessing new talent or a new organization is whether there is cultural fit, which means not learning a specific skill or product but learning HOW to integrate, navigate & collaborate. So, ask questions like:
- How did the leader collaborate with the internal team to address the customer issues, and proactively bring solutions?
- Why did the leader assess the talent & skills of the organization and make the decision to bring in staff, outsource through an agency or reallocate investments into digital marketing?
- What steps and engagements did the leader perform to understand the operations of the plant or warehouse, and make staff changes or process improvements?
Conduct a Look-back to Move Forward. If you have any interest in making good decisions, you have to be willing and able to look-back and review what worked and what didn’t. Whether it was losing a major customer, being beaten by a competitor for new business or losing a valuable employee, I have experienced many situations that were undesirable. But after each one I took the time to review and assess what I did and what WE did as an organization, that could have been different or better. Learning from challenges is our greatest teacher, and dealing with this COVID-19 situation is going to offer ample stimulus to review things like supply chain vulnerability, customer service response, channel strategy (e-commerce vs. brick/mortar) and work productivity in a virtual environment. Don’t shy away from it – use it to your advantage.
- Select a key topic to perform a look-back, and select a project leader and team that will be the core group to assess
- Take FULL engagement as a sponsor, and announce to the organization that this look-back is being performed so the organization can improve. It is not a witch hunt.
- Create a project brief, scope and timeline of what needs to happen, by when, and what success looks like
- Give frequent updates in leadership meetings or town halls along the way
- Make sure the look-back is shared broadly and specific actions are detailed and moved-upon. The worst thing you can do is conduct a look-back on something that did not go as planned, discover areas for improvement, and not implement.
Invest in Training & Development. Leadership is not a one person job. What will happen in a crisis are the strengths of staff members will shine, but the weaknesses will become glaring. Leaders will inevitably find more training and development is needed, especially on the EQ side of the equation. Weaknesses will show in behaviors like communication, shared risk decisions, cross-functional collaboration, mentoring, demonstrating empathy toward staff and creating clear priorities and contingencies. To help with assessing, improving and training, two of my favorite personnel & EQ assessment tools are:
Following these three critical steps can help you select, nurture and train better leaders, which will drive everyday business gains and enable your business to successfully manage through a crisis. Oh, and if you ask whether you can afford to do the above, I would simply ask…can you afford not to?