< Back to Blog

Leadership in challenging times

July 23, 2024 by Alistair Enser

In simple terms, effective leadership is about vision, inspiration, direction, empowerment and action.

In times of crisis there is a lot of uncertainty but a lack of information, and in the case of Covid-19 there has obviously been no historical knowledge to guide leaders through uncharted waters. As such, effective leadership takes on many increased challenges.

It is more important than ever for leaders to provide a clear vision and confirm the direction of travel, especially as the normal ‘route to success’ for most businesses is blocked. If an organisation is to succeed, its entire community needs to understand where it is heading – and why. Just telling people to ‘stop moaning’, ‘get on with it’, and ‘follow orders’ is certainly not a recipe for success!

The route many businesses are taking will be different to the ‘norm’, so being clear on the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ is crucial if managers are to ensure everyone buys into, and understands, why a pivot may be necessary.

Additionally, speed and agility are key attributes in our new world. So a self-learning organisation needs to empower individuals so they can contribute directly to business success by developing their own strategies and tactics in line with the over-arching business objectives.

Business leaders who want to learn more about strategies to deal with the unique challenges posed by the pandemic might want to consider the following mantras, drawn from a range of management thinkers:

1. Be authentic

These are tough times. Trust is critical, so authenticity will be important in building that trust even deeper than before. Gareth Jones and Rob Goffee wrote about authenticity – and how this involves ‘being yourself, with skill’, in their book “Why Should Anyone Be Led By You?

2. Focus on your community

Tom Peters writes that: “Business is not part of ‘the community’ — business is the community.” Caring for a community has many facets, including taking extra care to understand how different team members are affected especially focusing on the mental health and wellbeing of the community. The absence of serendipitous ‘photocopier’ meetings, for example, means leaders must introduce regular, informal and even non-business catch-ups.

3. Over-communicate, build trust

I appreciate that, at a time when we are ‘slaves’ to Teams and Zoom, adding another meeting, another email or another corporate video may seem a bridge too far. Certainly we all have to avoid information overload – however, important and focused communication on a regular basis will help the whole organisation digest and understand where it is, what it is doing, and how everyone fits in.

4. Prepare for online working, not just meeting

The way we work has almost certainly changed forever, so businesses need to not only communicate online, but work online – and there is a key difference between the two. Susie Kennedy writes about how working online requires much more preparation and planning than simply meeting online.

5. Disruptive Innovation

The pandemic has driven innovation, and often we have achieved the seemingly impossible. Clayton Christensen famously described the three factors that make for Disruptive Innovation as being an Enabling Technology, an Innovative Business Model, and a Coherent Value Network. The businesses that will come out of the pandemic stronger will have located one if not all three of these, and created a competitive advantage.

6. Finally – act today!

One of my favourite quotes comes from Samuel Smiles, a Victorian reformer and author. Much of what he wrote is still valid today:

“Lost wealth may be replaced by industry, lost knowledge by study, lost health by temperance or medicine, but lost time is gone forever.”

Act now – and stay safe!