27 March 2020

Why a new crisis calls for new leadership

Talent Development

Every crisis also brings an opportunity for growth, for re-alignment and, especially in the context of a global threat, for a shift in society. It can bring out the worst in humanity, such as people who scam others that are an easy target in their state of fear. Alternatively, it can ignite positive change like a new sense of unity and community. In order to deal with present challenges, thought leaders and conscious influencers are needed more than ever – certainly in politics and in economy, but it starts with each individual, in a remote work setting, within a new family setting as well as in our immediate community. This also requires a new set of skills, with a strong focus on impactful communication, change management, mindfulness, empathy and stress management.

A global crisis challenges our hierarchy of needs

The psychological impact of a health and economic crisis, especially when it stretches across communities, countries or even the globe, cannot be downplayed. We are being faced with several inner challenges, that Psychology Today defines as the following:

  1. We are suddenly being taken down to the “survival” level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – in an instant, people’s financial worries are no longer about wealth accumulation but rather about meeting basic needs such as food whilst supplies are in doubt and keeping shelter as a result of losing their income.
  2. Our two most essential priorities are in sudden conflict – those between “earning your keep” and “protecting those you love”, when earning your keep may also pose a risk for the health of others – a struggle we are being faced with especially during the Covid-19 crisis, when we are called to give up work and stay inside in order to protect especially the elderly of our society.
  3. Survival mode tends to spark “survival action” in many people and the response to a crisis is to “rise to the occasion” that often is connected to our sense of self. Being called to do “nothing” and sit back furthers states of helplessness, even depression, particularly in strong action takers.
  4. It is easy to fall into defence mode, protecting your own – in the case of Covid-19, we witness this in form of hoarding, businesses offering strong discounts in order to survive, the pulling out of investments , which all contribute to the devastating impact on the economy.

New strategies as an effective response to new threats

Whenever the world has been faced with a new threat, what became necessary were new strategies of conflict and crisis management. Just as cold war defence strategies weren’t effective response measures to 09/11, a new global health crisis that no one expected to grow to this extent leaves us frightened and lost for answers. World leaders operate in completely foreign territory with uncertain outcome, and simply cannot provide the answers people want to hear in order to feel safe. A new kind of leadership therefore is required, and possibly for the first time ever, it actually begins on a micro level, with each individual that is called to responsibility and can make a significant difference in the development of a pandemic. Within this context, the following characteristics become crucial skills and abilities in navigating through and emerging from times of crisis.

A global call to place the need of others above your own

As companies switch to remote work and families are being confined together at home, leadership focuses not so much on the “management” of people but much more on strong personal and communication skills. Simon Sinek in his book “Leaders Eat Last” speaks about the true price of leadership as ‘the willingness to place the needs of others above your own. Great leaders truly care about those they are privileged to lead and understand that the true cost of the leadership privilege comes at the expense of self-interest.’ Whilst most will agree that aiming to be a great leader in your job as well as in your life is a popular skill, talking the talk and walking the walk are two very different things – especially in times when the word “leadership” has become a catch phrase for many social media influencers. It takes a level of skills as well as a degree of selflessness and courage that most aren’t simply born with.

Contribution over preservation

In the current situation, it may require for a manager walk away from a secure, well-paying job in order to save those of their employees. It may require shutting down a business and taking financial loss in order for others to be safe. It may just require staying inside and giving up on certain “needs” in order to avoid contact with others and protect their health. It may mean managing your own stress and fear to be able to serve those in your immediate community, team or family in the most effective ways. It means contribution opposed to preservation and taking care of those who need help coping.

Self-awareness is key to understand the needs of others

As the Canadian Psychological Association states on the “psychological impacts of the coronavirus”, people in general are strong and resilient to cope with stressors, but “not everyone reacts to the same event in the same way and not everyone shows their distress in the same way.” Mindfulness is an important skill in this context, as well as self-awareness and the ability to disconnect from a personal view or belief in order to be in the listening of others and understand how challenges occur to them. It is simple to see within the close setting of a family – the way parents respond to a crisis directly influences how their children react to it. The same counts for communities and work environments.

Further reading

True leaders own their state of mind

Leadership does not equate to downplaying the severity of a situation and make the people around you believe all is fine by evoking a false sense of security. Leadership means taking ownership of what each person has complete control over, in times when many are overwhelmed by uncertainty: their own state of mind. To consistently shift from victimhood, helplessness and feelings of anxiety and depression to a mindset of empowerment, calm and gratitude in order to be the person that inspires others to step from in-action to action, and from negativity to positivity. Words are not enough. According to Albert Bandura, who first established the theory of a role model, human behaviour is learned through 1. observation, 2. attention, 3. retention, 4. reproduction and 5. motivation – may it be parent to child learning or in a classroom or work environment. It can be concluded from this, that learning through listening is less impactful than learning through experience.

Leadership skills are grounded in transformative learning

The training of leadership and management skills therefore is not as easy as reading a book: skills are much more grounded in transformative learning opposed to informational learning; much more experiential than theoretical. Informative learning means to acquire knowledge within our  existing “box of values” and paradigms without changing our own self, according to new information and experiences. Transformative learning means the voluntary change of self and accommodating new into an open system of values and paradigms.

Or as Edmund O’Sullivan, Director of Transformative Learning at Studies in Education, University of Toronto, states: “Transformative learning involves experiencing a deep, structural shift in the basic premises of thought, feelings, and actions. It is a shift of consciousness that dramatically and irreversibly alters our way of being in the world. Such a shift involves our understanding of ourselves and our self-locations; our relationships with other humans and with the natural world; our understanding of relations of power in interlocking structures of class, race and gender; our body awarenesses, our visions of alternative approaches to living; and our sense of possibilities for social justice and peace and personal joy.”

Transformative learning requires the practice and constant application of self-awareness and acquiring the proper tools to deal with one’s own mindset in order to lead, influence and inspire others. Leadership begins with leading oneself as well as a sense of great responsibility for one’s individual state of mind – but the good news is that this way of being can be learned and developed.

Empowered mindsets avoid costly mistakes

Companies today recognize the importance of those skills and that leadership means much more than making sure employees carry out their work efficiently, meet targets and deadlines. They recognize that staff with an empowered mindset, with a sense of ownership and independence in their work, and a feeling that they matter and that their voice counts are working more productively and stay in their jobs longer. Especially in times of crisis, soft skills such as change management, stress management, mindfulness and communicating with impact in order to drive hope and a positive outlook, are crucial for the survival of our work environments as well as our family bonds and community structures. The cost of miscommunication in enterprises is high – in US and UK companies it amounts to a total 37 billion dollar per year. 86 % of executives state that ineffective collaboration and miscommunication are the major cause for business failure, and 77% of employers value soft skills as important as hard skills

Learnlight creates long-lasting partnerships with their clients in order for them to develop and harness their full leadership potential so that they are able to deal with any situation and challenge that arises – even in a crisis that as such has never existed before.

soft skills
Soft Skills Development
Building the critical skills needed to succeed in the modern workplace
soft skills
Soft Skills Development
Building the critical skills needed to succeed in the modern workplace

Share this article

Latest Insights

Ready to start?

Take your business on the first step to transformative learning today. We look forward to being part of your journey.