Effective leadership is vital for making a strong business — but it has never been more important than it is today. The covid-19 outbreak has tested organisations all over the globe and tragically we’ve already seen businesses fall victim to this most unprecendented of challenges. One thing we’ve seen with great consistency, however, is that businesses benefiting from excellent leadership are better equipped to weather the storm.
Crisis always separates the wheat from the chaff; the way a leader (and in turn, a business) reacts is the first step towards navigating the issue. Employees as well as clients, stakeholders and partners look towards a business leader for reassurance and realistic encouragement during crises; an effective business leader will be able to convincingly demonstrate that the company is taking the right steps to address the problems. Conversely, a bad leader will be unable to ‘rally the troops’ and cause confidence in the company’s direction to fade — and fast.
Of course, few businesses could have predicted the covid-19 pandemic, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t required to respond decisively and appropriately. Delays in response mean loss of consumer and employee confidence, not to mention loss of revenue. At times of great uncertainty, leaders who act quickly and wisely will come out on top.
Over our years helping the world’s top businesses find their best people, we’ve come to recognise a number of key traits that define great leadership. Importantly, we believe that excellence in leadership is about behaviours, not skills.
Loyalty, respect, positivity and integrity are key behaviours that good leaders need to show if they want to foster a real sense of support from their varied stakeholders. Of course, in a crisis, leaders need to convey one message to numerous audiences — employees, customers, the public, Government and so on — and do so in a clear and consistent manner.
There is something to be learned from those businesses who have come through the covid-19 pandemic well. The truth underpins everything; it doesn’t take long for exaggerations or mistruths to unravel. Being able to emphathise with your demographic will guide the messages you want to give. Leaders need to understand some key things: what do they want to hear from you? Is it in line with what you need to say? How do you need to phrase things to bring them on board? Where is the best place to speak to your audiences — via the media, social media, direct emails or website?
This is also a time for corporate social responsibility to stand up and be counted. While not all businesses will be able to do this, there are some great examples of how businesses can support the Government’s efforts in a way that keeps them top of mind for their customers and clients but also offers genuine help and support. For example, countless manufacturers answering the call to shift production lines to create ventilators, while Dyson took the challenge a step further and created a new ventilator prototype to go into production. Airlines have brought stranded Brits home, while grocery stores big and small have worked tirelessly to keep shelves stocked and the elderly and vulnerable safely fed. This is an opportunity for CSR to really mean something.
Those who have done well in this pandemic so far have key things in common. They have been truthful, fair and fast to respond. There’s no room for false promises or reassurances. They are living embodiments of those key qualities we seek in our appointments for clients: loyalty, respect, positivity and integrity.
The covid-19 epidemic has changed the face of industries the world over. When we come out of this, the markets will be operating from a very different place. But one thing we hope to see is a new suite of excellence in leadership, coming out stronger from a very challenging time.