When you are flying in a passenger plane being tossed around on top of a tropical storm you value the calm voice of a pilot explaining that there is some heavy weather ahead and that he or she plans to climb a few thousand feet to avoid the worst of it. The last thing you want to hear is a hesitant voice saying, “Err…we’re not quite sure what’s happening, but we’ll let you know when we do.” Worse, perhaps, would be total silence from the cockpit whilst anxious-looking cabin staff rush to and fro.
In this turbulent time of Covid-19 (aka Corona Virus), we need confidence and clarity from our leaders. As with any tumultuous situation, uncertainty is a major cause of anxiety and stress. Asking for calm is not enough. People need clear, straight-talking, single-mindedness and a credible plan of action.
As we saw in the early days of the outbreak in China, it is tempting to hide the truth in the belief that bad news may undermine credibility or cause panic. However, in this era of the internet and social media the truth will always out. Communicating an honest assessment of the situation reduces fear of the unknown and dispels rumours. It also creates a bond of trust between leaders and their followers, which is vital to holding things together in difficult times.
A sense of purpose is also vital; something that galvanizes people and provides a sense of unity. ‘Save lives’, ‘Save the National Health Service’ are strong rallying cries in these challenging times. When people are being asked to give up freedoms and to take a cut in income, a common purpose raises our consciousness above mundane worries by appealing to our sense of community and the greater good.
“Leaders are dealers in hope”, said Napoleon Bonaparte. In times of turbulence and danger, we want leaders who are optimistic and resolute. Great leaders do not make light of the perils, but challenge us to rise above short-term difficulties to achieve things beyond normal expectations. They dig deep for the strength and confidence to carry their followers with them.
Finally, we expect our leaders to make clear decisions and to set out a credible plan of action for overcoming the present dangers. But there are tougher times ahead and unimaginable challenges still to come. It is a testing time for leaders – will they have the courage, faith and resilience to keep doing the right thing?
Anthony Greenfield’s book ‘The 5 Forces of Change – A blueprint for leading successful change’ is available on Amazon at:https://www.amazon.co.uk/Forces-Change-Blueprint-Leading-Successful/dp/185252605X