COVID-19 is shining a light on leadership – Here’s how it needs to evolve

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned the world on its head. It’s clear that leaders need to step up and act quickly to find new ways of doing business. There is much we don’t know about what happens next; but what we do know is that out-dated leadership approaches won’t work in this new world.

There is no escaping the painful truth that going into this pandemic, leadership was not where it should be. We’re still stuck in outmoded mindsets, re-enforced by out-dated development models. Our leaders are not resilient enough, not creative enough and not inspiring enough. The consequences of bad leadership are starkly evident.

A 2016 Gallup survey found that 82 per cent of managers are ineffective at leading people. This pairs well with another often-cited Gallup survey that found half of all people who voluntarily left a job did so to get away from a bad manager.

Leaders are not unaware of their shortcomings. A 2019 Gartner survey of 2,800 business leaders found that only half believe they are “well-equipped to lead their organisation into the future.”

The arrival of the pandemic is now shining a harsh light on leadership shortfalls and where leaders need to improve. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a professor of business psychology at University College London and Columbia University, suggested that crises like the COVID-19 pandemic make it much easier to identify bad leaders. “While poor leadership choices may go unpunished—or even unnoticed—when times are good (minimising the potential damage that clueless leaders have on their groups and societies), bad times will not only expose, but also amplify, the harmful effects of incompetent leadership.”

A crisis can clarify the changes we need to make in leadership philosophy and application. If, as Chamorro-Premuzic noted, a crisis amplifies the harmful effects of weak leadership, then it should also help to identify the new approaches we need to take.

Unfortunately, the current state of leadership in many organisations is not what is needed to survive this crisis. Will this crisis be the turning point that forces companies to jump-start more effective leadership development? We have an opportunity to objectively assess the current state of our leadership and apply new behaviours that we already know work better.

A crisis can expose weak leaders. It can also inspire us to be better leaders.


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