We’ve written about leading people through change before – just not the amount of change that all of us are facing as a result of the Covid19 crisis. ‘Unprecedented’ is the word that everyone is using to describe our reaction to the amount of change its necessitated for us to respond to challenges its thrown at us.

But today, instead of focusing on leading others through change, I’d like to focus on the changes going on in leaders themselves. In particular, the changes that we’ve already seen in our national and international leaders and the role modelling they’ve set which is being replicated in businesses throughout the world.

I became aware of the extent of the changes that was happening in our national leadership on the day that the Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer stepped up to the podium at the Downing Street briefing to announce the extensive financial measures that  the government was going to extend to people and businesses to ensure that they could transition through the Covid19 crisis and arrive at the other side relatively well. He and other leaders in the government have all demonstrated a keen concern to support people at a humane level, both in health and welfare in economic terms.

The Covid19 response to the pandemic has made us feels our common humanity, allowing us to recognize our shared story, oneness and humanity.

To my knowledge, this leadership approach has been replicated in businesses throughout the land. In some, less humanity than might have been hoped, but in others, a great deal more. Executive teams have worked to ensure that if people had to be furloughed, that they were emotionally supported by leaders with 1-2-1 support calls, social meet-ups (online of course) and other support matters specific to the company.

Leaders who may have had difficulties in emotional intelligence have been helped by HR directors and HR business partners to do the right thing and adapt their behaviours to demonstrate the support and encouragement that people need in a crisis. The challenge is to lead their people so that the fear and anxiety that naturally arises in them will not immobilise them, but be able to respond constructively to what is required.

When leaders themselves don’t know and don’t have control of the changes needed, for example whether they can have staff remote working, furloughing or shut down, the pressure on them is huge. Establishing contingency plans, continuity plans, adjusting to social distancing, or even shutting down the whole organisation, has put extreme pressures on leaders. This pressure impacts them in a variety of ways, causing the very changes we can observe. Often these changes are for the good.

When leaders experience their own vulnerabilities, they can experience compassion and empathy for others who are also experiencing difficulties. Such experiences are helping to re-order priorities and values – back to what really matters for each person. When people come into contact with what’s really important to them, more humane responses become the norm, and equality of standing is recognised.

In this way, leaders have acquired a new appreciation and regard for the very human beings that their businesses require, and especially the skills in jobs that depend upon empathy and a range of variable responses.

In some instances, the outcomes at a national level are surprisingly welcome. Recent research shows that a quarter of FTSE 100 CEOs have taken pay cuts of between 20 to 40% to counter the Covid-19 crisis. Sharing the pain with employees by taking pay cuts can really help re-build trust, especially if this leads to a long-term reassessment and re-basing of bosses’ earnings.

The mindset of leaders are the critical enablers of a more humane future. As each person changes by going through this time, with time for reflection and personal increase of consciousness, it is to be hoped that leaders will act with an awareness of interdependence, solidarity, fairness and compassion.

 

Penny Sophocleous

4 May 2020