Four critical leadership traits to help your business survive times of crisis

By Jackie Carroll

Jackie Carroll, CEO of Media Works.

Jackie Carroll, CEO of Media Works.

As much as countries around the world are currently united by a shared experience, they are also divided by the ways in which this crisis is being managed by their leaders. While some leaders have opted for quick and stringent lockdowns, others have chosen a looser approach, and others still have wavered between the two.

In this era-defining time, the leaders who are demonstrating strong and decisive leadership are proving to be the most successful. They are endearing themselves to the public, ensuring compliance with regulations and stemming the virus’s spread. They are proving, in a word, how critical effective leadership is during times of uncertainty. Of course, the traits that make a leader effective are the same in governments as they are in business and, fortunately, they can be taught. 

If you’re managing a business during COVID-19, the following leadership characteristics will help your business survive:

  • Communicate transparently and frequently

Communication is perhaps the most critical tool in any strong leader’s repository. Talking honestly and openly with your team at regular intervals will help to quell fears and rumours, and may provide solace and instil loyalty. Being honest involves admitting both what you do know and what you don’t. Be upfront if you don’t have all the answers, don’t withhold bad news or overpromise anything, and be sure to share new information as soon as you receive it.

  • Show empathy and compassion

Being sensitive to the challenges your employees are experiencing emotionally, mentally and financially will demonstrate that you have their best interests at heart. Connect with them as individuals and admit the ways in which you, too, have been affected. Encourage your team members to express themselves, either to you directly or to other managers within your organisation, and take their concerns on board. 

  • As far as possible, be firm in your words and actions

Your team needs guidance – they need to know what to do and what not to do. Offer clear instructions to individuals and groups and set up processes so that they can deliver accordingly. Bear in mind that, in a crisis as unpredictable as COVID-19, it can be difficult to stick to one course, and it’s possible that your approach will have to evolve from day to day. If you explain the reasons for the changes you’ve made properly, this shouldn’t be a problem. 

  • Bring people together

Crises are difficult experiences and many people, leaders included, tend to withdraw. In the current context, where self-isolation is mandated by government, this can be both personally dangerous and professionally damaging. Remind your people of the value they hold, and draw them together through the virtual tools at your disposal. Offering them access to online courses, for example, will help to engender a sense of community, while providing your employees with new skills that will serve your business well into the future.

These leadership skills, and many essential others, can be taught. Members of your team who show the potential to become the next generation of leaders in your organisation can learn how to deal with this crisis and other scenarios through carefully designed programmes. Media Works’ Effective Leader certification, for example, offers learners the opportunity to learn how to communicate, manage relationships, encourage innovation, and assess and manage risk – all of which are critical crisis-coping skills.

Keeping your business robust during times of uncertainty comes down to being the most effective leader you can be. But as much as it’s about supporting your team, it’s about depending on their knowledge, skills and ability, too. Use this time to train them so that yours is a business of multiple leaders, all of whom are collaborating to usher in an economically resilient post-COVID-19 future.

  • Jackie Carroll is the Managing Director and co-founder of Media Works, South Africa’s leading provider of adult education and training for over 24 years.