How the rules of Leadership must not be forgotten during a time of crisis
There has never been a more important time to demonstrate the merits of successful leadership than during the COVID-19 crisis. Possession of leadership qualities is frequently confused with being in leadership positions. Theodore Roosevelt once described the difference between the two by saying “People ask the difference between a leader and a boss. The leader leads, and the boss drives.”
Leaders provide strategy, direction, and they give employees the tools that enable them to gather information and make good decisions. Quantifying leadership is not simple, as it is the sum total of various actions that have a meaningful, impactful and profound objective. Effective leadership requires having a vision, executing it and creating impactful change, as well as directing all available resources towards a common goal.
Leadership is also often confused with management. Some people will always apply managerial behaviours regardless of the situation they find themselves in, while others will demonstrate leadership, leading them to succeed and even thrive during a crisis. What separates leadership from management is that, at its core, leadership relies on a set of beliefs that influences the way a person conducts themselves regardless of their circumstances.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen leaders adopting a variety of different leadership styles in response to the same issue. The outcomes of that leadership have varied significantly and brought varying results. On the one hand, we have seen some leaders adopting a consistent and straight-forward approach by communicating in a timely manner; providing clear instructions to their citizens and demonstrating a positive attitude. On the other hand, we also have observed a more authoritative style filled with strong messages repeatedly stating that everything is totally under control and assuring the public that everything is going to be just fine while remaining consistently scarce in clear and tangible actions.
What behaviours separate true leaders from their peers?
Articulating and taking tangible actions underpinned by true leadership is key to success. This is as true in the case of complex organisations as it is in the case of leading political actors. To ensure that you are being the best leader you can be, below are the key actions that draw out these “true leadership” behaviours:
- Create a vision that can withstand the unexpected – For many, the ongoing health crisis has highlighted the need to become better prepared for the unexpected. When encountering these situations, managers are typically reactive, whereas leaders are proactive. There is a growing recognition of the importance of having thorough contingency plans. These plans will be complemented with supporting resources and mobilisation protocols to enable a quick, effective and assured response to unforeseen events. However, even without these protocols, leaders will be prepared to deal with any situation. They can be bold and brave even when contingency plans aren’t in place, and they can confidently make tough decisions in the middle of an unfolding crisis. In addition to demonstrating calm and measured behaviour, leaders influence the people around them and take them along the journey.
- Ensure that your message is heard – During the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis, clear, concise and timely communication has been reported as a success factor, as it has brought engagement and transparency to the public. Even though the extent of the problem remains unclear, being honest and open helps maintain a leader’s credibility. During an emergency, there is a need for a quick response. One of the best ways we have seen this demonstrated during COVID-19 has been via a crisis-response team. Many governments and businesses, such as financial service institutions, have appointed small leadership teams that, by meeting regularly, became the main source of information and ensured the consistency of all communications. They have also been able to leverage technology as a significant enabler to achieving the widespread dissemination of timely messages.
- Empower your team with greater responsibility – Responding effectively to fast-paced change requires greater authority delegation. Getting your team involved and listening to what they have to say is crucial in getting them invested in your decisions. Allowing staff to take more responsibility, show more initiative and make more decisions demonstrates the extent to which greater trust can be invested in the workforce. This increase in employee autonomy doesn’t only work because of a blind trust; to work well, it needs to be supported with training, coaching and review as people learn to operate with less supervision and instruction.
- Be human and sympathetic – People have been impacted in various ways during this crisis. When faced with a disparate world, a good leader can make people feel powerful regardless of their individual circumstance. Although management roles are under greater scrutiny in a cost-focused environment, the ongoing pandemic has highlighted why empathy and emotional intelligence are becoming ever increasingly more in demand in an organisation. When dealing with uncertainty, leaders need to focus on the way they communicate by taking the perspective of the audience and have empathy for them rather than fear of doing the wrong thing.
During periods of crisis, leaders can either shine or wither away. The litmus test for true leadership is to see whether the person in a leading position responds to the crisis with a command, or by steering their team towards a common objective with guidance and support.
In uncertain times, people seek certainty. However, even when certainty cannot be provided, a great leader needs to set the right tone, stand by their beliefs and maintain the standards that were set upfront, before any crisis was even in the picture.
How has the financial services industry dealt with leadership during a crisis?
Banking has played a very critical role in the economy during COVID-19. Italy, one of the countries hit the hardest by the early months of the pandemic, has seen banks taking a very proactive approach to address client demand. In order to respond to requests effectively, Italian banking customers got segmented into different groups. These are arranged by geographical area to cater to people most affected by the virus, as well as by product type, such as mortgages for first-time buyers being prioritised over those for a second home.
In Spain, Santander executive chairman Ana Botín, together with her board, has demonstrated leadership by taking a pay cut to fund medical charities. Within days, that fund was made available to a hospital in Madrid.
Closer to home, we’ve seen the Bank of England taking a series of actions to contain the crisis, ranging from reducing the bank rate to support business and consumer confidence to incentivising banks to provide credit to businesses and households to bridge a period of economic disruption.
Successful leadership is not only key for reaching objectives effectively and efficiently, but it is also fundamentally important in establishing the right vision and approach to take an organisation towards a positive mindset. Leaders are required to have the appropriate emotional intelligence and empathy to work under strenuous circumstances and environments as well as with different people and cultures. It is only by mastering these skills that the best outcomes can be expected.
How can BCS help you on your leadership journey?
Leadership has always been crucial, but it becomes even more important during a time of crisis. Its importance can be felt in all areas of life, including when delivering programmes with constant challenges and difficulties to overcome. At BCS Consulting we are very thorough in recruiting and developing leaders. Our senior leaders are equipped with experience in large and complex programme delivery across global clients in financial services and with leadership know-how that can help our clients through the implementation of new and improved solutions.
BCS Consulting has engaged with several tier-one financial services clients and led the delivery of complex change programmes. These engagements have been supported by the strong expertise and leadership necessary to change the senior management’s mindset and support long-term solutions across the organisation. Our senior professionals bring delivery experience and insight, filling key leadership roles to ensure successful programme outcomes, from mobilisation through solution design and implementation.