The leadership skills of the future should be built on what was needed in the past years – the ‘human’ side of leadership, including compassion, empathy humility, and vulnerability.

In our global research, interviews with CEOs, c-suite and business by the team of c-suite executive coaches and organizational development consultants from the Centre for Executive Education (CEE) in collaboration with the Disruptive Leadership Institute (DLI) have uncovered exemplary leaders who have been able to manage effectively the various crises impacting their organizations. They have demonstrated the competencies, behaviors and traits of a “C.R.I.S.I.S.” leader result in the development of the “C.R.I.S.I.S.” Leadership Model.

Leaders can no longer shy away from leading in a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) environment as our latest research has revealed and will be published in the upcoming book “Leadership in Disruptive Times: Negotiating the New Balance” (Business Expert Press, 2023).

They need to demonstrate the “Disruptive Leadership Competencies” suite of competencies including ‘cognitive readiness’, disruptive mental agility, and emotional resilience as well as be comfortable with uncertainty, have the self-awareness and self-confidence to make speedy but thoughtful decisions in ambiguity, and communicate consistently, clearly and openly, even when there is nothing to communicate. (See Figure 1)

Figure 1: The Disruptive Leadership Competencies Suite of Competencies

Reference: Bawany, S, (2023) “Leadership in Disruptive Times: Negotiating the New Balance” (Business Expert Press LLC, New York, NY)

Over the decades during various crises including the Global Finance Crisis (GFC) in 2008-2009, the technological and digital revolution of Industry 4.0 at the workplace, and more recently the devastating COVID-19 pandemic that has upended lives and livelihoods, our team of c-suite executive coaches and leadership development consultants from the Centre for Executive Education in supporting our clients, have witnessed countless examples of CEOs and C-suite leaders stepping up and embracing the challenge posed by these crises as if it were their calling.

They were comfortable with uncertainty, have the self-awareness and self-confidence to make speedy but thoughtful decisions in ambiguity, and communicate consistently, clearly, and openly, even when there is nothing to communicate.

They acknowledged that organizational crises present complex financial, social, and ethical issues and challenges as any emotionally charged situation that, once brought to public notice, invites negative stakeholder reaction and thereby has the potential to threaten the financial well-being, reputation, or survival of the firm or some portion thereof.

A crisis occurs suddenly without warning and in an unprecedented manner, as we have experienced with the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the past couple of years, as the World Health Organization (WHO) continues to provide daily updates on the continued increase in the number of confirmed cases and fatalities arising from COVID-19 across the world, leaders in business, government, and other organizations face unprecedented challenges in managing the fallout of this pandemic, which has encroached not only on public health but also on global economic well-being and has disrupted individual lives, families, and society.

The successful leaders who thrive and managed the disruption during these crises, have demonstrated specific competencies which we have framed as the “C.R.I.S.I.S. Leadership Model” as published in our latest book on “Leadership in Disruptive Times: Negotiating the New Balance” (Business Expert Press, 2023).

Figure 2: The “C.R.I.S.I.S. Leadership Model”

Reference: Bawany, S, (2023) “Leadership in Disruptive Times: Negotiating the New Balance” (Business Expert Press LLC, New York, NY)

THE “C.R.I.S.I.S.” LEADERSHIP MODEL

COMMUNICATE: Particularly during a crisis, the ability to genuinely and effectively empathize with the people affected can make all the difference regarding whether a leader will succeed or fail. Never before have leaders been under such intense scrutiny from their stakeholders aimed at assessing whether they demonstrate the care, authenticity, purpose, and values that organizations profess to subscribe to.

Our recent research has found that inspiring and transformational leaders during times of crisis tend to seek out and act on the counsel or advice of others. They also have a team of advisors that can offer as many perspectives as possible on their situation be it organizational or leadership challenges. The best practices adopted by these leaders include asking themselves the following questions:

  • “Do I have access to diverse voices and sources of information?” : They adopt scenario-planning to determine whose knowledge or expertise you might need in various kinds of crises and identify whether their organization currently has access to it.
  • “Do I routinely consider other team members’ ideas or feedback when making decisions?” : They sought out expertise to fill their blind spots and make informed decisions. Effective crisis leaders are those who know when—and how—to defer to others.
  • “What systems or processes might I put into place to surface and capture others’ perspectives?” : They look at how communication is structured within their organization and whether there are barriers or silos that they need to proactively address.

RESILIENCE: During times of crisis, leaders need to be calm and sustain their energy levels under pressure, to cope with and adapt to disruptive changes. They bounce back from setbacks. They also overcome major difficulties without engaging in dysfunctional behavior or harming others. Resilient leaders are genuinely, sincerely empathetic, walking Compassionately in the shoes of employees, customers, and their broader ecosystems.

The well-being and resilience of self and others are more important now than ever before. Role modeling around well-being will be important for leadership success as well as the need for clear messaging on psychological first aid, well-being, and mental health from the business.

INTELLIGENCE: In times of crisis, business intelligence is an area that leaders can leverage successfully when revenues are decreasing and budget problems come into play. By leveraging business intelligence and big data analytics, leaders will be able to discover things that are not obvious or that they didn’t know, such as the root cause of those revenue drops and how they affect specific levers within their organization.

SHIFT MENTAL MODEL: In a crisis, leaders are compelled to try to implement measures that they have never attempted before. When a leader adopts a growth mindset in a crisis, the path to change tends to be less arduous as individuals with a growth mindset believe their talents and abilities are developed through self-development and practice. They are open to new ideas and learning and see failures as opportunities.

INSPIRING: During crises, leaders need to demonstrate inspirational and transformational leadership styles. Trust is more valuable than ever during times of crisis because it not only promotes resilience in the face of uncertainty but also provides solid ground for action and results in better financial performance. When leaders and organizations are centered on an authentic purpose, employees feel that their work has meaning. Research shows that employees who feel a greater sense of connection are far more likely to ride out volatility and be available to help companies recover and grow when stability returns.

SET THE GROWTH PATH: One of the biggest questions employees have asked their leaders during the current pandemic is when this coronavirus madness will end so that they can get back to normal or business as usual. The reality is that it is going to be business as unusual. To prepare for the “new normal” or the “next normal,” leaders need to answer the question “what can I do now to prepare for when things return to a new normal?” To achieve this, they need to reflect on what has happened and what lessons they have learned and then plan to start with a new vision.

They need to connect the conversation about why they and the leadership team are embarking on preparing the organization for the future, what the outcomes are likely to be, and how to go about it. Leaders need to stay firmly grounded in questions like “what’s our goal here? What does success look like for us?” Leaders need to build a culture of accountability, foresight, a “people-first ahead of process and technology” mantra, and decisive adaptability.

For many organizations, this means asking their workforce to work from home. If you are preparing for increased remote work, ensure that the organization has in place the right technology and the technical capacity to support it, including bandwidth, VPN infrastructure, authentication, access control mechanisms, and cybersecurity tools that can support peak traffic demands. Many leaders have confessed that their organizations were not ready for this!

VIRTUAL OR HYBRID WAY OF WORKING: WORK-FROM-HOME (WFH) & WORK-FROM-ANYWHERE (WFA)

Virtual working, or at least hybrid working, is here to stay, and leaders need to understand the benefits and challenges from a leadership and followership perspective.

The COVID-19 pandemic is upending work for everyone all across the globe and, as a result, an estimated 2.7 billion people, or more than four out of five workers in the global workforce, have been affected by lockdowns and stay-at-home measures.

Figure 3: Hybrid Vs Remote Work

To prevent the virus from spreading at the workplace, more and more organizations are turning to remote work as a necessary step to continue their day-to-day operations. This unpredicted new reality represents uncharted territory for many organizations and business leaders accustomed to having their employees onsite, raising questions such as the following:

  1. How do I lead and engage my team remotely?
  2. How do I know my workers are actually working?
  3. Do my employees have the tools for them to do their jobs remotely?
  4. What impact does remote work have on my people’s productivity?
  5. What are the measures for measuring performance for remote employees?

Remote work is here to stay as organizations across the globe will keep supporting and developing policies related to WFH even after this crisis is over. Since COVID-19 has upended work and office life, even companies with fewer resources and slower-moving cultures are likely to follow.

Although WFH got a big push from the current global coronavirus pandemic, increasing numbers of people have been saying goodbye to their onerous commute to work. Thanks to ever-evolving technologies like Skype, Facetime, Slack, Zoom, Teams, Google Hangouts, authenticator apps, and cloud computing—not to mention texting and e-mail—it’s no longer necessary to be in an office full-time to be a productive member of the team. Many kinds of work can be done just as effectively, if not more so, from a home office (See Figure 3).

An emerging form of remote work allows employees to work from anywhere (WFA) so that the worker can choose to live in any geographic location of choice. While traditional WFH programs offer the worker temporal flexibility, WFA programs offer both temporal and geographic flexibility (Bawany 2020).

The lack of Connectivity across the business with mixed or confused messaging, the inability to meet face to face with family and colleagues, the increased connection through virtual platforms, and that people were having to open up more about their own lives and the impact of the person on the professional.

The Positive Consequences of Virtual Working include the inclusivity of the virtual space, the opportunity to build and sustain rapport with senior leaders in the business, the ability to work in different ways virtually with a similar impact to face to face, and the benefits of no commute.

The Negative Consequences of Virtual Working include the challenges of working remotely when the technology fails and the issue of disenfranchised colleagues who have limited access to IT.

CONCLUSION:

The recent COVID-19 pandemic with its devastating consequences has tested political and business leaders globally and has exposed deficits in crisis communication, leadership, preparedness, and flexibility. Extraordinary situations abound, with global supply chains suddenly failing, media communicating contradictory information, and politics playing an increasingly bigger role in shaping each country’s response to the crisis. The pandemic threatens not just our lives and livelihoods but also our economy and liberty as we have experienced during the lockdowns or travel restrictions.

It has also imposed at times ethical dilemmas and emotional stress on both the leaders and the employees at large. Nevertheless, the pandemic as well as other past crises including the Global Financial Crisis in 2008-2009, also provides an opportunity for organizations, leaders, and governments to learn from their mistakes and to place their businesses, countries and institutions in a better position to face future challenges.