Leader Character During a Crisis

Do you have sound judgment? Can you stand firm in your decisions against negative contextual pressures, pressures from the crowd you face each day? Pressures steeped in fear, misdirection, ambiguity, and bystander syndrome. Now more than ever you are being watched and like the scene in the movie A Knight’s Tale, at the end of this your judgment will be weighed, measured and let’s hope you won’t be found wanting. Rely on the positive contextual pressures that lie within you: confidence, solid judgment, values, integrity, transparency, collaboration – the list is long on positives, focus on those.

“If you are going through hell, keep going.”
– Winston Churchill

These are the days that many of us may feel like we are going through hell. The decisions we make each day in these times of crisis will have a lasting impact, not just to you but to all those in your charge.

No-one ever said that leadership was easy in times of crisis, like we are facing today, in the midst of COVID-19. What you do and how you get through this will be a legacy you will carry forward for the rest of your life.

The Character of a Leader

Crisis reveals character. Crisis is the time when “what” you do stands side-by-side with the importance of “how” you do it. People will be paying attention and counting on you to show humanity, humility, courage, and accountability. We are looking for bravery, integrity, and kindness. Rise to a higher level of understanding of the whole picture; be inspirational, appreciative, and future-oriented whilst staying in the moment, focused on one step at a time.

  • Drive with a passion to achieve results collaboratively.
  • Demonstrate patience that you may not have – yet require especially in these times.
  • Candour and authenticity should be the norm.
  • Remember to be fair but firm.

What I am alluding to here are dimensions of leader character.

Judgment – Central to the 11 Dimensions of Leader Character

“I shall tell you a great secret, my friend. Do not wait for the last judgment; it takes place every day.”
Albert Camus

A Photo of Albert CamusA significant dimension of character is judgment. Your judgment in all situations will be the ultimate factor that keeps you going through these challenging times: your ability to understand situations as they are, not as you may want them to be; your analytical skills coupled with an ability to be pragmatic, open to listening to your intuitive self; and yes, your ability to embrace decisiveness and critical thinking.

Don’t just know what to think, know how to think; figure it out, use your judgment. Have the courage to speak truth to power – have the courage to speak truth, period. Use judgment as your guiding light to make the tough calls, step up to owning decisions, and proudly be candid, transparent, and open. Together we are better.

The Zeitgeist for 2020 is Trust! Are You Worthy of Trust?

The essence of leadership is trust. Your people trust you – they want to trust you! Frankly, they are trusting that your judgment is sound, that with each decision you make, you continue to be “worthy” of their trust. Stay true to your values, don’t let outside pressures sway you. Maintain your own integrity – you will be counted on to resist the pressures from those with hubris intentions. It’s not about them, it’s about the collective we – the “we” standing next to you, the “we” around the world.

Be brave, trust your own voice more than the voice of that crowd that wants and may pressure you to sway. Course correct when necessary and be mindful not to allow others to steer you off course.

Essential Services in COVID-19

We are seeing plenty of real-time examples of individuals leaning in and staying true to their values, embracing their passions and their calling – utilizing their judgment to make split-second decisions that save lives, ease pain, flatten the curve, and have long-lasting impact around the world. Nurses, doctors, healthcare workers, grocery clerks, restaurants, truckers, food producers, medical equipment manufacturers, pharmacists, scientists, our Canadian politicians, WHO, and suppliers are demonstrating courage each day. They are all using their judgment to ensure they stay safe, maintain their integrity, and stay true to their values all while facing their own fears and accepting humanity as the key to keep moving forward.

It’s a lot to ask and yet each and every one of them are stepping up to the challenge. With every action they are being weighed and measured and they are being found worthy of our trust.

Management in Times of COVID-19

Meanwhile, we in the “management” world are being asked to step up and show the courage of candour, humanity, transparency, patience, human understanding, kindness, and yes, placing our judgment skills out there to be weighed and measured. Managers of essential services and managers of those working from home are asked to lean in to prove they are worthy of trust.

We are seeing organizations turning on a dime, retooling and filling the needs of the medical community of the healthcare sector.

From making face masks for hockey equipment to making shields for the medical profession; from creating designer clothes to hospital gowns; from blending and bottling craft beers to blending and bottling hand sanitizers. This is judgment at play, situational awareness, adaptability, decisiveness – it’s all there. Innovation thrives at the hands of those that have the courage to stand tall and say, “We can help.”

Humane Poverty

And yes, as in everything, “Humane Poverty” (to use the term coined by my colleague, Professor Elena Antonacopoulou), it does exist; we are seeing poor judgment in play as well.

We are seeing people move away from their own values, coupled with the corporate values exposed prominently in Mission, Values, and Corporate Culture documents. Companies that deem themselves “essential services” but aren’t, individuals that aren’t taking social distancing seriously, etc.

“Judgments are not easy to make and what makes them even harder in uncertain times is ‘moral fatigue,’ which I extend to include not only the moments where action choices are formed that necessarily present us with tension, but the leap of faith implicated when we are practising to use our judgment well. Moral fatigue or humane poverty is implicated in the humane judgment because not all endure the humanity we are called upon to exercise when navigating these ‘crucible moments’ where judgment calls elevate us from human being to becoming fully human, that is where leadership also emerges.”
– Prof Elena Antonacopoulou PhD, Professor of Organizational Behaviour at the University of Liverpool Management School

Values are being distorted. Not just the values of the workers, the values of those in charge as well. I choose to believe that there is unrest in those individuals that are choosing to exercise humane poverty as they must be aware and have that uncomfortable feeling that not all is ok. So, I say, “Houston, we have a problem,” and fixing this problem will take a mighty effort from all.

Being a Leader in Unchartered Waters

With that first case of COVID-19, the world changed and so must we. To the business leaders who have our children – be they 16 or 60 – in your charge, be mindful: your people that are working for and with you are trusting you. They are trusting that you are putting people over profits and they are trusting that you are doing everything that you can to ensure their safety – embracing the truth that we are all in this together and yes, that we are only as strong as our weakest link. They, in fact we, are trusting your judgment – be worthy.

It has always been that the first and foremost job of any business leader is to ensure that the people that you lead, that you have in your charge, have a safe work environment (COVID-19 safe) and that they go home safely every day.

Be worthy of your people’s trust, be worthy of all our trust, be a leader that exemplifies leadership and character together.

Tough decisions will need to be made and the long road of each decision starts with whether you (individuals and business leaders alike) use your judgment wisely to ensure the safety of all – essential workers, family, colleagues, and friends. Lead! Be worthy of trust!

A New Dawn – A New Norm Arises

A new norm is emerging in leadership. That norm is focused on character, leader character, character-driven leadership with solid judgment at the core. Rise to the occasion.

So, ask yourself:

  • Are you staying true to your values, exercising solid judgment and humanity?
  • Are you worthy of trust?
  • Are you embracing that new norm of leadership – one based on character, leader character?

You will be weighed, you will be measured, and yes, you will be judged. Adopt character-driven leadership, remember that we are better together. Be safe, be smart, and stay true to your values. We are trusting you to do so. We believe in you.

Author Profile

Loretta Biscaro SmithLoretta Biscaro Smith is the Founder of Genesis Executive Management Inc., a consulting firm that specializes in Developing Leader Character, Leadership Training and Development, and Executive Coaching. Loretta combines 30+ years of experience as a business leader and entrepreneur with practical experience as a trainer in character-based leadership development, trust, and design thinking. loretta@genesis-em.com

Want to learn more about the Dimensions of Leader Character and embracing the new norm of leadership? Contact us and ask about our 2-day leadership training program on Trust and Leader Character at: loretta@genesis-em.com.

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This is a post by a Guest Author. Disclaimer: The author's views are entirely his or her own, and don't necessarily reflect the opinions of Mentor Works Ltd.

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