It is not our purpose here to take a position, but to present some thoughts on leadership in times of emergency, crisis and disaster. So, with the UK facing in double time the twin major events of storm flooding and Coronavirus COVID-19, what is your impression of the quality of leadership shown by The Prime Minister, members of government, members of parliament, and appropriate officials externally; and the senior leadership teams within your organisation?
In times of crisis, emergency and disaster, especially, we demand the highest leadership characteristics, attributes and standards. So, what are some aspects of these?
The best leaders understand the human dimension. This means that they understand what makes people tick; our needs, desires, fears, hopes, strengths, weaknesses all tied together. So, when an elderly couple find their lives and home destroyed, perhaps for the second time in a row in a short time, they expect, at the very least, some presence and engagement – for a leader to meet them face to face, to listen, to show genuine empathy and compassion, and understand the personal, and potentially catastrophic, impact and consequences on individuals, as well as communities. This alone, if done sincerely, can radically boost morale and foster the mental fortitude to fight on; but how much better to make that presence really felt by spending quality time with people and communities, rolling up their sleeves and standing shoulder to shoulder, showing that you really are by their side. Such leadership can have an incredible impact on morale. Obviously, a leaders’ time is precious, and they have other responsibilities to execute, but being seen and showing presence is a basic which goes a long way to winning hearts, minds and respect. Perception is powerful!
At its heart, leadership is about service. As a leader you are literally there to serve others, ensuring that their welfare and requirements come before yours. As a leader you serve both individuals and collective communities. This does not mean that everybody gets what they want, and obviously there must be a balance between individuals and collective needs, wants and requirements; but is does mean that you put others interests first.
The best leaders also demonstrate leadership attributes and character. Personal mental and physical courage, strength, resilience and integrity are crucial. the best leaders should inspire confidence and trust. This does not mean that they know everything and have immediate answers to everything; it means that people trust that you have their backs; will make a genuine and concerted effort to address issues, challenges and problems; and above all will do what you say you are going to do. Without trust and confidence, there is no leadership.
As Augustus knew leaders must both lead and also follow. Strong leadership is about making decisions, taking actions and leading from the front, by example and sometimes intuitively. There is nothing wrong with deploying intuition; but is also crucial, especially in times of crisis, emergency and disaster, that actions and decisions are decisive; and so, it is critical to invite, listen to and ass appropriate invite counsel, advice and expertise. Leaders are not God given and infallible fonts of all knowledge, and it is important to collaboratively involve others with expertise and experience. Likewise, it is foolish not to situationally aware, and to be intelligent and brave enough to change decisions and directions as required by new circumstances, intelligence and analysis. And, whilst it is impossible for a single leader to do everything, and so teamwork and delegation are critical, it is the leaders’ responsibility alone to set the values and mission and operational frameworks around which decisions made and action taken. It is also important to understand that delegation is not an excuse for a lack of visibility and presence!
Communication is critical. As a leader you must articulate. This is not about grand, motivational speeches, although these can be useful, but is about clear, open, honest, timely and effective communication and advice, that allows people to both know what is happening, as well as make informed decisions.
And finally, leaders must from the start not only assume and take on the mantle of leadership and responsibility, but take personal responsibility, not just for their own decisions and their consequences and impact, but for those made by others under their authority.
In conclusion, times of crisis, emergency and disaster, especially at national, community and organisational levels, demand the highest standards of leadership. In these times of flooding disaster and Coronavirus COVID-19, are you seeing and getting the leadership we deserve?