Leadership Within a COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter World – Do the times make the leader or do the leaders shape the times?


By Janice Dusek, CEO, JD & Associates and BMG Associate

We know that the corona virus disruption and the Black Lives Matter movement are and will continue to create a new business landscape. Where we thought our business was going has shifted. A revolution within the community, health care and beyond is occurring. So how are we as leaders within this landscape shaping the future?

These are tumultuous times filled with continuous change and leadership within this new world requires us to think differently and be true to who we are.

As a leader, will you and your organizations emerge from this crisis stronger and more ready to thrive than before its arrival? The big differentiator for the future is how the leader engages with their people; and how they empathize, support, motivate and capitalize on the wisdom and talents of those within the organization. All of this requires the leader to capitalize on their people’s skills and abilities during this difficult time.

Doris Kearns Goodwin (1) identifies that the most important thing for a leader is to understand human nature and to develop the ability to grow.

As a leader you are a work in progress. How will you continue working through and leading your organization and people during this COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter Crisis? History has shown that a crisis can define a leader.

So what can you do to lead and turn this difficult time into opportunity? The following 4 themes can support this opportunity development:

  1. Show Empathy — Use your leadership qualities of empathy and understanding to move your people forward. It’s important to acknowledge and validate how people feel, as they’re often operating in a “stressed” survival type mode. If people are constantly working in survival mode it will prevent you and your organization from acting on our opportunities that arise during this crisis. Verbalization of your people’s worries in a non-punitive environment will show support for everyone. Continuously show empathy to everyone around you and work with your managers to build their empathy quotient to support candid conversations with everyone in the organization. Together work on what is in the organization’s control and build on new ways to address the issues and create new opportunities.
  2. Create Organizational Resilience
    • Tell the Truth — people are resilient and will be able to deal with reality- the truth, even if it is difficult to hear or poses a difficult future is necessary. Knowing, creates the momentum for moving forward in creating the change required to survive and thrive. Share the facts of what is happening – if there are issues related to downsizing requirements in the future; the need to realign services, and shut down areas of work people need to know and they will respect you for your candour. It is the uncertainty that is more harmful than the difficult news. As a leader it is your time to shine – give them as accurate picture of the future – the “big picture” – provide them with the rational, context and the reasons why.
    • “Grounded Hope” (2) — Build hope together. Help your team to create a shared identity, to move the organization forward. Hope persists when communities of people generate new images of possibility; and these thoughts of new possibilities helps people fight back against the idea of permanence and propels them to seek out new options. This “Grounded hope” – the understanding that if you take action you can make things better, is foundational to move forward and create organizational resilience. This resilience is built not only within individuals but amongst individuals and will support the development of strength needed to address Black Lives Matter crisis and the COVID adversity. Resilient leaders and organizations have strong social ties – bonds between people, bridges between groups and links to their leaders. Empowering yourself, empowering your leaders and all the people in your organization builds collective resilience.
    • Communicate, Check in and Celebrate — Leaders during a crisis need to find new and innovative ways to communicate and check in with their people, on a continuous basis. Creating transparency in communication is paramount- tell them how the organization is doing – meaning how are patients and clients doing- how are the staff doing? Listen to your people. Create forums of all different kinds to enhance your ability to listen as well as communicate. Then finding ways to celebrate the work that has resulted in the change needed to survive and thrive during the crisis is needed.
    • Keep Looking — WHAT ARE THE OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE FUTURE? Good leaders always have their eye on the future – where are we going, how are we evolving, what and who needs to move the finish line? How will you reinvest in your organization and support your people to grow with you?

After a crisis you can never just go back to the way things were-we all know that! So what do we need to do? As a leader, ensure that you shape the time you are in; but also remember that this crisis has summoned the leadership within you to create the time you are in as a time for supporting growth and resilience.

Thus, from my perspective, as the leader within todays COVID and the Black Lives Matter crisis you must shape the time you are in right now, as well as shape the future. And ultimately ensure that you use this crisis to shape your leadership style and future.

1. Goodwin, D. K. Leadership in Turbulent Times. Simon & Schuster, New York. 2018

2. Sandberg, S., Grant, A. Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2017. Pg. 129


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