In Part I of this series addressing what it means to lead effectively during a global pandemic, I invited leaders to LEAD.

Using LEAD as an acronym, I discussed the first two letters.

L: Listen

E: Engage

In that post, I suggested that the “new face of leadership” is relational in nature and that part of leading well during crisis necessitates a deeper, more proactive quality of listening paired with an uncompromised commitment to engage with our teams. This engagement needs to come from a place of vulnerability, empathy, humility and authenticity.

In this installment, I introduce the “A” and the “D” of this acronym: Act and Dedicate.

Allow me to introduce you to Julia:

Julia [not her real name] is the owner of a small business in the Northeast. In a recent talk with her, she shared that she has accomplished more as a leader and business owner in three months than she has in three years. The abrupt onset of COVID-19 paired with indefinite stay-at-home orders put her and other leaders around the world into a total tailspin. Julia had to act quickly, deliberately, and wisely in response to the threat that COVID imposed on her business while simultaneously managing her own personal fears and those of her family.

Three months later, while reflecting, Julia shared that she and her team made major changes to their organization. Many of these changes were those she had considered for years but never had the time or energy to initiate. Other changes grew out of bursts of creativity and innovation and were unlike anything she had ever experienced. In sum, the global pandemic has been a powerful catalyst moving Julia forward as a leader and as a business owner. During our conversation, she described this COVID-catalyst as a “gift.”

Julia is not alone. Without a doubt, other global leaders and business owners have a similar story to tell.

Like so many of us, Julia learned three important things very quickly when COVID-19 settled in (with no indication of departing anytime soon).

First, Julia learned that her business was not storm-proof.

Although she and her team had a variety of protocols in place for wide-ranging potential crises, they never once considered the damaging implications of a pandemic. Julia and her team needed to get creative quickly and innovate methods for both managing the uncertain terrain of crisis and radically re-imagining the company’s future.

Second, Julia learned that in addition to keeping her company afloat, she needed to be present to her team in an entirely new way.  

Fraught with anxieties about the future of the company and possibly losing their jobs, Julia needed to be the source of calm in the storm. She had to show up to difficult conversations with her employees fully present, informative, empathetic, compassionate, and transparent. In sum, Julia had to listen deeply and engage her team in ways that led them to feel safe, seen, heard, and connected to her, the company, and to each other. In the face of total uncertainty, Julia needed to authentically convey that she did not have all the answers. What Julia could do was be frank about what her team could expect from her. She has kept this commitment.

Finally, Julia learned that it was not enough to “storm-proof” her business.

She had to radically re-imagine the company, its mission, and future. In addition to team meetings that addressed how to keep things afloat while working remotely, Julia had to facilitate discussions with her team that addressed brave questions such as: “What does this company look like post-pandemic? Will it ever be the same? How can we serve our clients in new, interesting, and more meaningful ways? What does a crisis of this magnitude require of us?

Again, Julia is not alone. Globally, leaders have been forced to acknowledge that perhaps their organizations were not ready for the devastation of a global pandemic — and this acknowledgment is humbling. The best leaders have had to listen to and engage with their teams more deeply than ever before, initiating important discussions about their futures.

Additionally, leaders have had to act from a place of clarity, strength, and direction and simultaneously tend to the emotional needs of their teams. The “action” required of leaders during a crisis of this magnitude requires two important qualities.

First, it requires that action is initiated from a place of “response” as opposed to “reactivity.” Fear-based, triggered and reaction “action” can be disastrous during crisis and yet, it is all too common. Crisis inherently includes “threat," and when we feel threatened, we naturally shift into a reactivity mindset. When this happens, the brain shifts into “tunnel vision” and we are often robbed of access to the fuller picture. Action rooted in clarity is close to impossible when the brain is hijacked by stress hormones. We legitimately lose contact with the frontal cortex of the brain (this is the place where our critical thinking skills live) and with our capacity to call upon the part of the brain that fosters creativity. This in mind, any action taken during crisis must come from the calm place of a responsive mindset. Leaders need self-awareness and stress management skills to act with clarity during a crisis.

Second, action during crisis should be “inspired.” Inspired action occurs when a leader can make decisions, behave, communicate and “act” in total alignment with the organization’s mission, purpose and values. Inspired action might be tough right now as so many leaders and business owners might be wondering if their mission, purpose and values are even relevant in this new normal.

A good exercise to call upon now is to devote an hour to the following inquiry:

Why are we here? Why this company and why now?
How do we serve? Is this still relevant?
What do we actually do and can it helpfully serve a world that looks so different now?

Julia and her team realized that to remain a viable company, they had to radically re-evaluate their mission and purpose. The process of asking these brave questions and having the willingness to pivot is an ongoing process — and a valuable one.

Action matters now in ways it did not matter 3-4 months ago. In what are our next steps rooted? This is an important question to ask for those of us who might be feeling a bit “groundless” right now.

I am certain that our best leaders have had to dedicate themselves to an entirely new notion of “leadership.”  

This new face of leadership is:

Wise. Savvy. Focused. Clear.

Creative. Innovative. Inspired. Inspiring.

Empathetic. Compassionate. Whole hearted. Brave.

Listen.

Engage.

Act.

Dedicate.

LEAD.

These are the essential qualities of today’s leader.

If you are a leader, have you noticed that this time of crisis has invited you to listen and engage your team at an entirely different level? Have you had to act from a place of urgency yet with clarity, wisdom and courage? How has your dedication to your own leadership shifted? Has it deepened? When you reflect, have you been called to lead differently — perhaps more powerfully?

Julia would say “yes” to the above, as would so many leaders across the globe. That said, what does it take to acquire and sustain these qualities of transformational leadership in ways that take us through and beyond the crisis we face?

One word.

Mindfulness.

Yes, you read that right.

Mindfulness.

Leading well through and beyond COVID-19 necessitates mindfulness.

“Why?” you might ask.

And how?

Stay tuned for Part III of this series where I will discuss why mindfulness is essential to cultivating the qualities that constitute the “new face of leadership.” I will offer tools for building a strong foundation of mindfulness from which your leadership will thrive!

Dr. Christine E. Kiesinger is Vice President of Development and Lead Trainer of Emotional Intelligence and Conscious Communication for studio BE.

If this information was helpful to you, we encourage you to consider our webinar, “Leading Through and Beyond COVID-19: Tools and Strategies for Leading Through Crisis.” Specifically designed for executives and decision-makers, this webinar is invaluable for those seeking the insight and tools necessary to lead from excellence during crisis.

Contact Gretchen at gretchen@meetyourcenter.com to learn more.

Feature photo with thanks to #WOCintech