2020-06-22 11:57:25

As the world begins a prolonged adjustment to some dramatic change that has transpired due to COVID-19, that is the "new normal," responsible and thoughtful leaders must prepare for a significant shift in operational priorities.

Article By Mr Letsogile Batsetswe (BNPC Consultant)

Leadership styles which have served well up to this point will need to be revisited and adapted to this extraordinary and unprecedented crisis. `Effective leadership in a prolonged crisis with such serious consequences is absolutely necessary for an organization and its people, and requires physical, psychological and emotional strength` says Indy Banerjee, a partner in McKinsey`s Bengaluru office.

Leaders must play a central role in determining how successful their organisations are at adjusting to the immediate fallout of the COVID-19 crisis. The uncertainty and long-term nature of the COVID-19 crisis will likely trigger further unanticipated workforce transformations that will re-shape aspects of the future of workforces with permanent effects. The ability of organisations to weather the outbreak lies in its adaptability, resilience, collaborative potential, and leadership abilities.

While companies deal with survival and customer retention, job insecurity, retrenchment, downsizing, emotional and psychological trauma assume centre-stage. It`s increasingly clear that recovery and turnarounds too, will have to be accelerated post the immediate crisis. Leaders who have succeeded in navigating such crisis recognize that effective management blends static, core values of crisis management with dynamic adjustments to meet their own personal needs and those of the workforce during critical incidents. Successful leadership relies on a manager`s adaptive capacity. In this pandemic crisis, resilient leaders must respond and adjust to fluid circumstances across the organisation in a climate that changes day by day and hour by hour.

Leaders now face operational and organisational decisions with profound implications. The choices they make today will define the businesses` approach for years to come, with a generational impact on how it cares for its workforce. They will have to help their organisations embrace and adapt to this new normal.

Leaders who thrive during normal operations or even during temporary crisis can struggle to sustain personal fortitude during a prolonged crisis that impacts their organisations, their communities, their families and themselves. To maximize effectiveness and to stay productive as a leader and carry the organisation through the coming months, consider the following strategies:

1. Leadership style shift

If you are usually a decisive, authoritative leader, crises like the COVID-19 outbreak will be where you come into your own, but it is not always the right approach when it comes to employees` mental health. Good leaders must be able to judge what tone best suits each occasion. Angela Armstrong, coach and founder of Armstrong - a leadership development firm, explains; "a participative leadership style that encourages collaboration and ownership will bring diverse specialisms together to solve complex solutions." This may feel unnatural for leaders who like to offer choice and empowerment, but at times of uncertainty, this level of ambiguity can be unsettling, confusing or even scary.

2. Recognize Impact and cost of fatigue

According to Van Slyke, et al (2020) many leaders frequently fail to recognize (or accept) the real impact and cost of fatigue during a crisis. Ironically, the common perception that leadership in crisis requires tireless engagement and ceaseless energy may directly contribute to reduced effectiveness as decision-makers. Leaders will face sharp choices reflecting their commitment to any guiding principles. Principles may include;

  1. i. Putting health and safety first - where organisations should continue to take the stance of prioritising employee well-being. Companies will need to energize campaigns on physical and mental health at a level of intensity that very few have matched before.

  2. ii. Leaders should make deliberate decisions to involve secondary leaders and middle managers to a greater degree than they would during normal operations. Remember "people tend to support what they help to create" applies in a particularly meaningful way during a severe crisis, where employees are looking for ways to make meaningful contributions for the collective survival of the organisation.

At the beginning of a crisis, it is normal to adopt an "all hands on deck" approach. It is also typical to overburden your "go-to" team members, the high-performers who push themselves to the point where stress and fatigue compromise their decision-making. Adaptive capacity in this context means the dispersion of tasks and the preservation of energy.

3. Clear communication

Francesca Cassidy, deputy editor at Raconteur emphasises that regular, open communication is key. With so much uncertainty, it falls to leaders to be the calm voice of reason and reassure employees, remembering that how you communicate is just as important as what you communicate. Leaders have an essential role in ensuring communications are concise, unambiguous and timely to answer questions for different stakeholder groups while remaining cautious by avoiding outright promises that might be difficult to keep down the road.

4. Business technology agenda

With the changed work conditions imposed by the COVID-19 crisis, workforces and business function leaders are depending on their technology backbone to sustain their businesses. Business technology is all about leveraging technology to create value for business. The high dependency currently placed on technology is a testimony for technology becoming integrated with the business. This will ensure that information officers do not drive a technology agenda, but a business technology agenda that aims to enable business growth and value creation, support end-users, and make business processes run efficiently.

Adapting to rapidly changing technology requires innovation and strong leadership to stay ahead of the curve and to remain competitive. The most successful leaders at a worldwide level are those who understood just how much technology can aid them in managing people. Helping them build teams and keeping track of work across all channels and in any location of the world. The new business world is made up of connected devices, artificial intelligence, and secure cloud business solutions. These enable teams to work together more efficiently than ever and empower companies to expand their reach towards new markets across the globe.

5. Agile ways of working

As businesses move beyond and recover from immediate concerns, they are learning from the crisis. They`re making choices that will fundamentally reshape their ways of working and organising. Some of the choices will include the following:

i. Performance management and incentives

As the world adjusts to the shifts in the economic landscape around it, many leaders are finding that existing performance-management and incentive structures are no longer useful or appropriate. Employee circumstances have changed rapidly, as have many daily job functions, rendering employees` former job expectations and goals irrelevant.

Line managers should use existing performance management systems or consider implementing new ones like virtual performance management software to have visibility of each employee`s activity, progress and results. This helps staff to stay organised and maximise productivity, and gives the business a greater insight into the performance of its employees. Managers should be encouraged to review existing objectives, refocus people and break down work into specific deliverables so everyone has clarity on what is important. Setting realistic objectives can motivate staff and focus their attention on the personal and business goals that are feasible and applicable during this change.

ii. Maintain culture in a time of rapid change

Cultural hallmarks are threatened by the COVID-19 crisis, in particular, traits businesses have worked hard in recent years to instil. These include credible challenge, information sharing across product lines and between lines of defence, and role clarity with accountability. A distributed, remote-working model makes reinforcing these more difficult. Leaders need to proactively pressure test that critical elements of the culture remain strong.

At the same time, it is an important moment to reinforce culture. Businesses that have traditionally struggled with prioritisation, decision making, may now be able to embrace approaches adopted in the crisis as a new norm.

Leaders will need to actively create links in a distributed network and connect the necessary people to solve problems together. They`ll also need to engage frequently to understand roadblocks and adopt more radical transparency with honest communication about their experience and about the level of uncertainty that they and the organisation face.


Leaders are faced with a huge task of guiding their organisations to the better future amidst the COVID- 19 challenges. Not all organisations and industry sectors are at the same stage of understanding as what this means to their business so it`s upon their leader to guide.

What is needed during this time is effective leadership in both government and business. Leaders who can communicate in a way that inspires confidence and unifies communities are very crucial. More than anything, leaders must become laser focused on building trust with their employees, their customers, or their constituents so that society can feel confident that their leaders accurately understand the present circumstances.