The COVID Crisis – REAL Leaders Wanted

The COVID Crisis – REAL Leaders Wanted

A once in a century crisis is unfolding around us – across the globe we each are threatened by the dark specter of an invisible enemy that threatens our lifestyles, our jobs, our families … our very lives.


Each of us is wrestling to sort out a path forward – in the business sector, where I invest much of my time, the cry for legitimate leadership has never been more resounding.


In many cases, it’s not being answered – at least not well.


There is, after all, no playbook for leaders on how to respond to a pandemic – or the confluence of factors that’s suddenly cast all of us in its shadow.


Many “leaders” are simply reacting – and the default usually follows the same pattern.


Beyond all else, find a way to retain productivity. The message to employees – if we have to work remotely, then here’s what you need to do. 


Clamp down on ensuring we’re at least doing something…anything.


On its own there is some merit there. Clarity of direction is important. But it’s also potentially short sided – and history tells us it inevitably compromises real productivity because it fails to recognize greater human needs during times of crisis.


We’ve endured moments of great adversity before – and there are lessons for leaders that resonate. Few know them – even fewer apply them


The Gallup Group has invested the better part of 8 decades looking at company response to real crisis – from The Great Depression through world wars to 9-11 – and their observations are a primer for every leader – in every aspect of our lives, not just the business world.


Their findings – there are four universal needs each of us look for when we look to our leaders. How completely they are addressed dictates what Gallup calls the “rally effect” – the trigger mechanism for the resiliency that allows people to rise from the ashes.


  • Trust
  • Compassion
  • Stability
  • Hope


A great many leaders are falling short in addressing them. Gallup’s early audits in these first days of the COVID-19 crisis suggests less than half of workers (45%) feel their company actually cares about their well-being – an astonishing figure.


Far too many “would-be” managers are reacting to the symptoms of the pandemic and its repercussions as regards the company’s bottom line – too few are actually connecting with their people.


In a March 23rd NY Times article, retired General Stanley McChrystal and former Navy Seal Chris Fussell offer powerful insight from the lessons of 9-11 and its aftermath, when Special Forces had to radically change their approach to fighting Al Qaeda  – assuming a war footing unlike any other in human history.


Their message to leaders who today find themselves operating under similar circumstances as our military some 20 years ago – the tendency to hunker down and wait for things to sort themselves out is high – and it is counterproductive


What do they suggest distinguishes authentic leaders in times of crisis more than anything else?


  • High visibility – leaders don’t hide, they increase their presence
  • Honesty – straight talk, transparency, and candor
  • Giving up authority rather than powering up command and control. Real leaders, it seems, are at peace with NOT having all the answers and in fact, want “the troops” to play an active role in decision-making – not just waiting for direction.
  • And finally, and perhaps most important in my view – compassion. Acknowledgement of the human impact – and the concomitant effect on family, career, finances, and so much more.


Every company – and every leader – is facing unprecedented challenges today. The more astute are pausing to reflect on the lessons of history, not simply react.


In my decades of industry experience I’ve come to appreciate that during moments of legitimate crisis we see a few true leaders rise up – and a great many pretenders fall by the wayside – to include sometimes even C Suite executives.


I encourage companies and leaders to factor three basic human dimensions in their approach – dimensions that increase exponentially in importance when the world shifts on its axis.  Transformative leaders seem to understand that their relationship with followers begins with establishing and embracing:


  • A Sense of Identity – Who are we as a people; who are we as a company; what do we believe in? Those high-minded value statements that you see adorning your company hallways? Well, for the first time many of us are going to see whether they are just words…or something more.

In this country the very essence of our existence as a nation begins with 3 simple but powerful words….”We the people.” The search for Identity is part of the human condition – a foundation that becomes critical when adversity surrounds. Great leaders work hard to make that Sense of Identity REAL.

  • A Purpose that transcends – why have we assembled; what is our mission; where is it we are going? If it’s Identity that distinguishes, it’s purpose that propels us. Want to identify the companies that soar in the months ahead? Find the ones whose sense of purpose is pervasive.
  • And finally, Direction – how do we move forward; what’s my role; and what will that actually look like? Direction, I’ve found is easy for even the most transactional of managers – but direction alone is not enough. Transformative leaders know that.


The case study for your company – your community – your family – is being written right now.


Perhaps the words of philosopher George Santayana will summon a call to action.


“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”




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