Unprecedented leadership for unprecedented times

In a recent leadership programme, an unexpected conversation cropped up about the definition of the yin and yang symbol in light of COVID-19. The complementary (rather than opposing) forces that interact to form a dynamic system in which the whole is greater than the assembled parts. As many of you will be aware, the white spot in the middle of the dark can be said to represent the light and the dark spot in the white side, is well, the dark, i.e. balance in everything, there’s bad in good and good in bad and so on. 

Clearly, we are all in a dynamic situation and by definition ‘unprecedented’ means that we do not have past experience upon which to draw. Therefore, it calls upon unprecedented leadership that doesn’t give rise to fear and the frenzied discourse of behaviour that we sadly currently see. Core leadership tenets are essential, perhaps now more than they ever have been. Strategy planning for a new unknown ‘normal’ will be challenging. 
With many sectors experiencing vast threats to survival, as a leader, skills and deep reserves of resilience will have to be utilised to lead people in organisations of every size with calm, presence of mind and composure; by tempering fear with reason, meeting panic with fortitude, uncertainty with education and being very visible. This will enable innovation and creativity to soar rather than be depleted by the natural human fight / flight instinct. 

It is right that there is great concern and therefore planning for worse case scenarios prudent because it is clearly unfortunately nowhere near over.  

However, despite the fact that life for all of us may just have changed irrevocably, humans do adapt and survive and the strong leaders will enable people to find reason, common sense, open-mindedness and altruism in the midst of rather a lot of panic, fear, distrust and self-interest.

The suggestion of working from home for some may initially be met with euphoria, but isolation is of course lonely and depending upon one’s disposition, many will need a lot more contact and connection, whilst others will flourish. For many though this is not an option and staff will continue to be on the front line needing strong support and sincere thoughtful leadership. 

Five very simple tips; 

  • Be empathetic first, this is a human tragedy
  • Recognize and acknowledge the crisis and that scenarios changing on a daily basis is normal. Act deliberately and calmly. 
  • Be confident enough (not over-confident, people generally don’t believe that) with a good amount of realism.
  • Be very clear on what you know and very clear on what you do NOT know and what you are learning
  • Stay connected  – tech platforms to enable this abound and be as transparent as you possibly can.  The age old communicate, communicate, communicate. 

The conversation about yin and yang concluded that even in the darkest of times, there is always a slither of light or opportunity. 

If both professionally and in our communities we can meet this difficulty with humility and compassion for others, and a seeking of the facts instead of speculation and catastrophizing, our employees, friends, families, neighbours and ultimately the next generation will thank us for it. 

Keep washing your hands, open your heart and your mind and spread only kindness and love. 

Stay safe.

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