What kind of specific traits and mindsets are required to lead businesses during the crisis?
SL Leading in a crisis is different from leading in regular times because these are times of high uncertainty and stress for everyone. These are also the times when leadership is tested the most because people are looking at their leaders to help make sense of what is happening and what they should do next.
Therefore, the first trait of a leader in being able to lead well in a crisis is the leaders' ability to lead themselves. Are they really able to manage their own levels of stress first and foremost?
Then second-are they able to understand what is happening around them and make sense of what are often fast-changing and ambiguous signals? The nature of any crisis is that information changes very rapidly, and therefore the leader must have good sources of information and also the ability to make sense of these.
Third, the leader needs to be a good communicator. In a time of crisis, everyone wants to understand what is happening and how they should respond to all that is changing. Therefore, even when things are changing very fast the leader must be able to communicate her best understanding of the situation and the solution at any given time.
How critical is it to build a leadership pipeline in the current uncertain milieu?
SL Well the work of building leadership pipelines is as important as it always was. But it does in fact become even harder to do so well. It is harder for two reasons. First leadership pipelines are easier to work with in times of relative stability. However when organizations are preparing for large amounts of restructuring it is much harder to work with developing a pipeline simply because it becomes less clear who will be staying on with the organization over a period of time.
The second reason why this becomes more difficult is that in many parts of the world, this has actually been a difficult time for business, and therefore there may be fewer resources to commit to leadership pipeline development.
Amid disruption, how can HR contribute to the leadership navigating the complexities?
SL There are three roles that HR can play that will help the leadership teams they work with.
The first is to help advise leadership on the leadership style that can best contribute to managing with complexities. For instance, we know from both experience and research that when times are turbulent you need to have the ability to bring in multiple perspectives in order to make sense of change. This requires very high levels of collaborative leadership. So this is something HR leaders can very consciously build and encourage.
Second is to take the lead in any re-structuring process. Organizational structures for the future will need to be innovative and flexible. And as organizations consider what form to take post Covid, HR leaders could act as advisors on these structures. HR leaders should also play a very active role in helping the process of re-structuring to be as empathetic as possible.
Finally, HR can help the entire organization navigate what is likely to be a time of great turbulence and transition. This requires the highest levels of expertise in managing and leading change. With their expertise in insights from the behavioral sciences, HR Business partners can play a very valuable role here.