3 Types of Leaders in the Pandemic Era

Leadership is being put through the crucible of character as never before by the ongoing global pandemic. The way leaders are reacting and responding to the crisis has been a study in the fine art of leadership. Indeed, the way in which leaders of nations, political parties, industry and commerce have been managing the affairs of their domain, has largely determined how successful their efforts have been. Nowhere has this been more apparent than in the mindset with which the leaders are seeing the current situation. We are seeing 3 broad types of leadership mindsets at work

The Flat Earthers

Leaders in this category are in denial. They are convinced that the present situation is completely overblown and exaggerated, characterised by over-reaction and needless panic. They are angry at the disruption caused and are worried about achieving their targets, profits, revenues and bonuses. The message they give out to their people is aimed at minimising the impact of the situation and that it is going to be business as usual to a great extent. These Leaders would want their employees to be as productive as they can, even while working from home. Their focus is on getting the business back to speed as soon as possible while downplaying the long term risks and consequences on the lives and careers of their employees.

The Flat Earthers leadership style is characterised by reluctance to initiate large scale reforms, introducing ad hoc measures for the short term and by making incremental changes to the way of working. Flat earth leaders focus on external communication with their customers, suppliers and vendors much more than internal communication with employees. There is very less evidence of empathy and understanding while being very aggressive with cost cutting, employee restructuring and downsizing.

The Fence Sitters

These form the majority of leaders who have made a flying leap to the middle of the road. They are precariously trying to straddle the fence in terms of maintaining status quo and making the necessary reforms and bringing in changes. They are more confused rather than angry at the situation and the lack of concrete information is not helping them at all. While their hearts are in the right place in terms of being empathetic towards their employees, the are also worried about the impact this situation could have on the future of their companies and on their own careers. The fence sitting leaders are torn between proactively dealing with the situation and holding the line and continuity. While being more open to employees working from home and to adopting safety standards at work, these leaders are only looking at such measures as a short term necessity and look forward to a time when they could get back to the way things were.

The Fence Sitters’ leadership style is driven by the need to balance the safety of employees with the continuity of business and operational matters and this often leads to mixed signals being sent out to various stakeholders. Communication tends to be sporadic and sketchy in terms of firm action steps being taken by the leadership while being more ‘feel good’ and ‘motivational’ in nature. Employees are left conflicted between trying to stay safe and keep their line functions safe while ensuring operations continue without interruptions. The Fence Sitters management style is characterized by inertia, tokenism and cluelessness.

The Resolute Anchors

This minority of leaders are showing what it takes to steer organisations during times of crisis by displaying admirable courage, fortitude and pragmatism. They view the pandemic and the disruption it has caused as an adversity that has to be overcome and in doing so, grow; as leaders, as an organisation and as a society. Backed by a strong belief that team work and commitment followed by dedicated efforts would see them triumph, these leaders set to the task with determination and purpose. Their primary goal is to ensure the safety and security of the organisation’s assets, both physical and human capital. They have the ability to reassess priorities and take positive action.

The leadership style of the Resolute Anchors is a mix of empathy, genuine concern and calm response to the situation on hand. They desist from knee jerk reactions while keeping their options open. They are aware that they may have to take decisions based on incomplete and often times false data. They over communicate rather than under communicate as they know that employees are anxious and are depending on their leader to keep them abreast with what’s going on. The Resolute Anchors create a safe space within which employees are encouraged to come up with creative solutions, be critical of existing processes and vote down proposed actions. Above all, these leaders make themselves vulnerable in front of their employees and in doing so, earn their credibility and trust.

When the dust settles on this pandemic, there are going to be those organisations that are left standing and the many who would not and what determines who stands and who do not depends on the type of leadership that was on display. We are already seeing many operations fold due to lack of agility and the rigid processes and systems in place that may have served them well during steady state but woefully fall short in this changed paradigm. Ultimately, the organisations that are going to emerge stronger from this pandemic are the ones who will have the Resolute Anchors as leaders.

Leadership Skills in a Post COVID World

The global pandemic, a ‘black swan’ event if there has ever been one, has irrevocably changed not only our external world but also our internal world. The safe spaces and safety nets that we could retreat into or cushion our fall have all but disappeared. Our primal instincts of fight or flight are hijacking our rational and reasoned thinking. Our brains are conflicted between sticking with habits and behavior that we are used to and the new responses that are required today. How will this play out when it comes to leadership development in the coming days and years? As an Executive Coach, this subject is of special interest to me and hence, I decided to look for emerging data and new research on what today’s leaders thought would be the skills and behavior they would need to adopt to flourish in the new world.

My first task was to do a dip stick within my networks to understand the sentiment on the ground. I started with a series of polls within business communities as well as industry leadership groups. My quest was to determine how, if at all, the leadership perspective has shifted and the new priorities. The results showed that there was a marked shift in leadership focus; from steering business results to managing cash flows and costs; from developing human capital to enhancing employee security and wellbeing; from strategic objectives to maintaining business continuity. This was not surprising and an expected outcome. The findings were also corroborated through my chats with clients and colleagues.

Next, I delved into what new surveys and global research findings were suggesting. The Willis Towers Watson report for instance suggests that crisis handling and change management are the critical factors requiring attention from leaders. The World Economic Forum report looks at 6 intelligences including Contextual, Moral, Emotional, Generative, Technological and Transformative intelligences as a framework for leadership. Other research data seem to suggest that decision making is now more instinctual rather than reasoned and creative thinking is taking precedence over critical thinking.

Putting all this together, I’ve come up with 5 new core skills/behaviours that leaders have to develop or strengthen in the days ahead in order to not only deal with the present challenges but also in order to create the eco-system to withstand and rive in the fallout of this pandemic in the years to come. These 5 core skills/behaviours are:

  1. Purpose: Organizations and leaders need to move from revenues and profits towards purpose driven leadership. Employees need to know what they are working for and how that is going to contribute to their own lives as well as the community they live in. Leaders have to articulate and sustain the big picture view of why employees are expected to do what they do.
  2. Humility: If there is one thing this pandemic has shown it is that nobody has the answers; there are no experts and everyone is learning on the go.Employees are looking for leaders who are not afraid to show their vulnerability and display humility in learning and changing their own set ways even as they expect their employees to adapt and change.
  3. Agile Thinking: The world has to make do with much lesser resources and this is true for organizations of any size. Leaders need to think on their feet and pivot on a dime in order to keep the operations running smoothly in a VUCA environment.There is no room for procrastination or contemplating.
  4. Over-communication: One of the downsides of employees working from home is that they are not able to see the big picture and how what they are doing is fitting into the overall scheme of things. It is the leader’s responsibility to keep everybody aligned and updated with what’s happening across all levels through frequent and empathic communication.Employees expect their leaders to keep them in the know and nix rumours and fake news.
  5. Rapid Decision making: Leaders today have to learn to take decisions quickly even in the absence of complete data or even conflicting information. Gone are the days of consultative or collective decision making. Leaders today need to be able to quickly assess emerging situations, evaluate practical and cost effective solutions and take prompt and decisive action.

I believe that leaders of today and tomorrow need to recognize that the world has changed perhaps for ever and that what worked for them yesterday would not do so today. a mindset shift has to take place all around starting with people in leadership positions, a mindset that moves away from “business as usual” and towards “business that works” in the new paradigm. Leaders have to align their way of working with the business imperatives as well as employee expectations of how their lives and careers are going to be affected by what’s happening around us.

Team Coaching Vs Group Coaching

This is one question I get a lot from my prospective clients and I can quite understand why this may seem confusing. After all, aren’t groups and teams synonymous with collective performance and shared responsibilities? Absolutely, but from an executive coaching perspective, there are subtle differences and I wanted to unpack this today.

Team Coaching is about performance coaching for formal and informal teams who have a shared set of goals and objectives. Here, everyone in the team is aligned with the same final strategic objective, although each member may have their own set of sub-goals or objectives. The success of the project or strategic outcome depends on the entire team delivering as they are meant to. From the coaching perspective, the entire team is assessed as one unit and dysfunctional areas identified and worked on collectively. The final outcome is a team that is more aligned, works with better cohesion and with a greater degree of positivity, enthusiasm and result orientation.

e.g.- A project team within an organisation that is behind schedule or a team that is plagued by conflicts with people working at cross-purposes would be ideal team coaching targets.

Group Coaching refers to a group of people, all of who, have an overall similar objective or needs. Here, while the coaching is being done as a group, the coaching is targeted at each individual within the group. The progress each member of the group makes, would vary as each person would be starting from a different point. The final outcome of the coaching would be that the entire group is now more self-aware and able to recognize and cope with the central issue they are all facing.

e.g.- A group of people from within an organisation who would like to improve their communication or presentation skills. Here, while the subject of the coaching is common, the benefits are accrued for each person individually.

From an executive coaching standpoint, the broad methodology and the coaching framework would be the same in either case but where they are different is when it comes to designing and delivering the coaching itself. The assessments would be one-on-one and the actions plans would be individual as well.

Dealing with Disappointments: Why do we struggle?

Dealing with Disappointments: Why do we struggle?

It is safe to say that there is nobody that has not faced disappointments in their lives, careers or business. Often, this takes the form of lost opportunities, failures or results not being as expected. The aftermath of the disappointment starts with an emotional burst of hurt, anger, resentment or despair. Our confidence dissipates, our fears are amplified and the stress starts to build up. This is also the time to slow down, take a step back and look at the situation with fresh eyes.

Before we can handle the feelings that arise from a disappointment, it is necessary to understand why they affect us so much. The fact of the matter is that all outcomes, no matter how big or important, can have only two possibilities. Like a binary pair, they can either be a zero or a one. In other words, the outcome could be a yes or a no. Each have exactly the same 50-50 probability of occurring. So, you could either land the job or not, she could either say yes or no, the customer could either buy or not. Until the decision is made, there is an equal chance of either outcome.

However, when it comes to our expectations of the outcome, this rule scarcely applies. In our minds, we assign a disproportionately high percentage in favor of one outcome over the other. We are always 99% sure that we will get the job offer, we are 90% confident of getting high grades and so on. What we fail to realize is that despite our expectation being in the high 90’s, the statistical probability remains at 50% either way.

When the outcome is revealed, if it is in our favor, we feel elated and vindicated. Our confidence shoots up and we are thrilled. However, if the outcome is not in our favor, we plummet down from the 99% confidence and happiness level to 0% leaving us floundering and unable to come to terms with the new reality. Our reaction? Hurt, Anger, Denial, Despair and loss of confidence. In short, our construct of reality has just come face to face with the actual reality.

The solution then seems to be clear. Instead of raising our expectations to an unnaturally high level, we should always realize that there could only be two outcomes and each of them have exactly the same probability of happening. Further, we need to realize that our desires are not our goals. While goals are linked to outcomes, our desires are the essence of who we want to be and no matter what the outcome may be, there are always different routes that we can take to fulfill our desires.

Living a life of resilience means developing and practicing the art of staying true to the essence of who we are and what is important to us while viewing both good things and bad things with equal detachment. By not creating our own reality that is not congruent with the actual reality, we are safeguarding ourselves from the plunge that inevitably follows an unfavorable outcome.

What to do When Nothing seems to be happening

Many of us have been in this place where nothing seems to be happening in our lives, in our careers or in our businesses. The goals that we expected to reach have not materialized and there just seems to be a vacuum where our future should be.

  • This could be a period of unemployment when job application after application is not yielding results, cash is running out and things are looking bleak
  • Perhaps this is a situation where your business is not moving forward, you are not landing new clients or generating revenue and yet have to pay for your rent, your staff, and other overheads.
  • This could even be in your life; the plans that you made for your life are not happening, you are staring at a blank wall and have no clue what you have to do next.

The default behavior that we all exhibit when faced with adversity and challenges is inertia. To just try to do the same things that we have been doing, hoping against hope that things would turn around for us.  We try to motivate ourselves with the thought that what we seek is just around the corner. But we still do not do what is needed to get ourselves out of the situation that we find ourselves in.

Consider world-class athletes and sportspersons. Do you think they do not fail? As a matter of fact, at the level they compete, they fail more often than they succeed. So, what do you think athletes do when they fail? Of course, they feel bad about it for a while; they are only human… but here’s the thing. They do not sit back thinking that they will be successful very soon. They go back to the basics. They start looking at their technique, their motivation levels, their physical condition, their mindset and above all, they work with their trainers and coaches to hone their skills and sharpen their competitiveness. In short, they take action to ensure that when the opportunity comes, they do not fail again.

I think there is a very good lesson here for all of us. When we feel that things are not going our way, it is time to take a step back and reassess our goals, look at the inventory of skills that we have, study the trends in the market, identify new windows of opportunities, build contacts with those that can help us pivot and above all, take action to make things happen.

Success does not happen by luck or by circumstances; they happen because you engineer them. So, start engineering your success and watch your life change.