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How can leadership help steer us through Coronavirus?

20 March 2020

Story by
Sarah Rice


Unprecedented times often call for unprecedented measures – but how can leadership in today’s business world step up to the plate in these extraordinary circumstances?

Across the UK in boardrooms everywhere, difficult decisions are being made about the future of businesses and the economy in general.

This is not a recession as we know it, nor is it a financial problem on its own – there are limited business models available to support leaders in how and when to make these decisions, where everyone’s futures hang in the balance.

Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, various research and studies had already shown problems at the top in terms of trust during periods of disruption.

Executive search firm Odgers Berndtson conducted a study that showed only 15% of business executives have confidence in their own top leadership to successfully manage disruption – including unexpected events like pandemics.

More than nine in ten of executives also believe that managing disruption well is critical for companies to succeed in turbulent times.

We have compiled some top tips from experts about the importance of leadership and how businesses should respond to help weather the storm.

Communication is key

“There are no rules as to when and how to do things, that is what makes this so unusual, but the advice I would give is to communicate if not overly communicate. Be clear on timeframes where you can, have the right support in place on and offline and be coordinated.”

Jo Taylor, managing director, talent and organisational design consultancy Let’s Talk Talent

Provide support

“HR professionals have to ensure that their employees are still able to talk to someone if they have any concerns or problems, and that they never feel alone or abandoned, even if they are having to self-isolate. Video calling services and modern HR resources, such as digital coaching and feedback solutions, mean that even remote workers are able to feel like part of a successful and sociable team.”

Juliane Sterzl, vice president UK&I, digital coaching platform CoachHub

Be compassionate

“Compassion is an essential leadership tool, particularly in uncertain times when people are concerned about their families, their health and their futures. Staff want to be reassured that their managers are not only providing strong and purpose driven leadership but also that they understand and appreciate the concerns of staff. Rather than over-confidently proclaiming that everything is fine, teams want to know that their leaders are taking their worries into account and are helping them to face the future with confidence not fear.”

Stephen Klemich, author and founder , online personal development tool, Heartstyles

Establish trust

“Employees need to continue to feel that they are part of something, and feel that they are being trusted rather than micro-managed. This is particularly true if workforces are being asked to work remotely.”

Dr Andy Brown, CEO, ENGAGE

Show purpose and direction

“One of the most important parts of being a senior leader is establishing a clear purpose and direction for the organisation – articulating clear values, demonstrating them regularly, and bringing them to life through words and actions. This is particularly important during times of transition. Doing this when you are not in the same location is particularly challenging. It takes persistence, skill and energy to make it work in practice.”

Nicky Little, director, international leadership consultancy Cirrus

Know your team

“You might assume that introverted people are more accustomed to working flexibly than extroverts, who feel a much greater need for social interaction. However, in reality, extroverted people are much more likely to adapt well to agile working.

“It’s vital that remote workers remain in touch with their wider team, and this is something at which extroverts excel. They are much more likely to proactively make contact, while introverts find it harder to initiate conversation and risk becoming even more detached.”

Stuart Duff, head of development,  workplace psychology consultancy Pearn Kandola

Manage by ‘outcomes’ not hours 

“When business isn’t ‘as usual’, leaders need to prioritise the activities that are going to contribute to the best outcomes – not simply whether employees are being ‘productive’ and following the 9-5. This requires an essentially more sophisticated and evolved form of management, focusing on clear expectations, transparent goals that are revised regularly and clear communication mechanisms.”

Dr Andy Brown, CEO, engagement strategy specialists ENGAGE

Find time to socialise

“It might not always feel so, but the workplace is an incredibly social environment. Whether it be the comradery that comes with sharing a joke or simply taking turns to make a round of tea or coffee, when you’re working remotely, you miss out on these interactions.

“One way that leaders can encourage more interaction within their teams is by factoring social time into teleconference calls. Where possible, it’s even more beneficial to communicate with video-conferencing facilities. The ability to make eye contact, and to read facial cues and body language, adds an additional layer of connection which can’t be achieved over the phone.”

Stuart Duff, head of development, workplace psychology consultancy Pearn Kandola



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