5 minute read 18 Aug 2020
Man photographing a flock of migrating starlings

Five leadership behaviors for all of us during COVID-19

Authors

Joe Dettmann, PhD

EY Global Corporate Purpose, Culture and Leadership Effectiveness Solution Leader

Builder of transformative leaders, company cultures and modern work environments. Dad to three future leaders and husband to one amazing woman. Brother, son, friend, runner and creator.

Micah Alpern

EY Americas Culture and Leadership Lead

Shapes and evolves companies’ cultures. Cultivates transformative leaders. Father of an amazing daughter. Husband to an entrepreneur wife. Sports fan, movie buff, eternal optimist and an idea man.

Jeff Stier

EY Americas Consulting Purpose & Vision Realized Leader

Vision-led and purpose-driven leader. Accelerator of innovation.

5 minute read 18 Aug 2020
Related topics Workforce Corporate culture

COVID-19 is challenging us. We offer perspective to anchor your and our collective action to help heal the working world.

By now, we all understand how bad this global pandemic is. To combat it, millions of us are fighting on the front lines, and millions more on the second and third lines.

Every business and individual have a role to play. Human resilience has led us through other pandemics, wars, civil unrest, natural disasters and every other form of tragedy before. And, we will get through this.

But if we’ve learned anything, it is that we can’t stumble through it as leaders. Doing so will cost so much more than economic loss. Now is the time to be deliberate – to really feel it, and to get right what people really need from us.

Through all the noise being put out there about how to lead through a crisis, it is important to focus on the guidance that is actionable.

As governments respond to economic consequences, executive leaders at corporations are working through business continuity and crisis plans to protect their people and all impacted stakeholders.

Unlike historic crises, we live at a time when transparency and technology are helping us watch and learn from one another. To emerge stronger, we need a collective call to leadership action.

Resiliency is the most consistent call to action right now. We agree. And, we’d like to offer an expanded and pragmatic view of what that means. In short, resilience and warmth equals leading people through this crisis.

The formula is to understand what people are going through first, then to respond appropriately. You don’t have to be all things all the time.

With these five behaviors as a frame, find simple, specific things that you can do that are true to your style.

Right now, people …

How we respond as leaders

are stressed, uncertain, and highly attuned to leader emotions. They are looking for calm in the storm.
Be a steady hand at the wheel.
Set a measured tone. Self-regulation is key — as leaders through a difficult time we need to show up at our best for others. Share perspective that we’ve been here before, and that we are prepared for this. Be grounded in clear priorities and a mastery of the facts. Through it all, it is about pragmatic hope.
want to know that you know what they are going through, and that you care.
Take their perspective.
This is about being empathetic. Check baggage and ego — it’s not about you, it’s about your team, so meet your team where they are. Take the time to personally care and show that you do by asking questions that reflect what you understand to be each person’s situation and need.
want honest connection with, not a separation from, leaders. They want to see leaders as real people too.
Show up as … you.
Be authentically you. Share what you are going through — be truly vulnerable. Be as transparent as you can be. We’re letting people into our homes right now. Wearing your old ball cap to a meeting is okay.
feel unfocused, disconnected, less motivated and less productive as they work virtually.

Lighten the burden.
Start meetings with a personal, creative touch. Bring perspective and (appropriate) humor. It’s okay to laugh; levity is key to resilience. Help people focus on the work that matters most today. Small words with real meaning can give your team the right amount of hope for a better tomorrow. 

 

need meaning in a time of crisis, more than any other time. It’s noisy right now, people need clarity on what is most important.

 

Bring it back to what matters most.
Now is the time to wear your company and personal purpose t-shirt. Stay true, every day, to what matters most to you and your team in (a) what you say, (b) how you decide, and (c) what you do.

As a new normal emerges over our human horizon, the definition of what it means to lead others will evolve. A pragmatic view of a better future and our ability to lead through transformative times, which will come again, seem especially relevant.

In the coming months we will have a choice. Will we regress back to old ways of working, or will we be deliberate about forming new positive leadership habits? We’re reminded of Marshall Goldsmith’s axiom “What got you here won’t get you there.”

These are the moments when we get to redefine what it means to show up for each other.
 

Summary

COVID-19 is presenting new leadership challenges. Five behaviors which support resilience and warmth can help leaders navigate challenging times.

About this article

Authors

Joe Dettmann, PhD

EY Global Corporate Purpose, Culture and Leadership Effectiveness Solution Leader

Builder of transformative leaders, company cultures and modern work environments. Dad to three future leaders and husband to one amazing woman. Brother, son, friend, runner and creator.

Micah Alpern

EY Americas Culture and Leadership Lead

Shapes and evolves companies’ cultures. Cultivates transformative leaders. Father of an amazing daughter. Husband to an entrepreneur wife. Sports fan, movie buff, eternal optimist and an idea man.

Jeff Stier

EY Americas Consulting Purpose & Vision Realized Leader

Vision-led and purpose-driven leader. Accelerator of innovation.

Related topics Workforce Corporate culture