Leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic

Leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic

“It’s only when the tide goes out that you learn who has been swimming naked”.
Warren Buffet

In dynamic and uncertain situations with emergent risk changing daily, leaders are facing questions they may not have answers to and anxiety levels are building rapidly. Leaders are not immune to doubt, fear, anxiety or loss of control. There is no playbook for how to lead through the COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, the main emphasis is and should be on containing and mitigating the virus itself. But the economic impacts will also be significant, and many companies are feeling their way towards understanding, reacting to, and learning lessons from rapidly unfolding events. How should we be leading during the COVID-19 pandemic?


Right now is the time to ask and determine how to become the best leader for your organisation. What kind of leader do you want to be during this crisis? What are your behaviours communicating to your team. What you do and say has a ripple effect throughout your team and organisation. Is this behaviour consistent with my desired professional brand? Leaders need to shift from cause-orientated to response-orientated thinking which takes an optimistic lens of personal agency and control.  

Cause-orientated thinking

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Planning not panic

“Great generals should issue commands in the morning and change them in the evening.”

  • Identify and manage risk as far as is reasonable including OHS&W, cash flow and operations.
  • Constantly re-frame your understanding of what’s happening with quality data and information.
  • Have contingency plans in place for identified risks.


  • Update intelligence daily.
  • Communicate early and often. Create and widely share a regularly updated summary of facts and implications.
  • Allow for two-way communication so staff and clients can ask questions and alleviate anxiety. Don’t assume information creates informedness.
  • Be succinct. 
  • Be honest and open to maintain credibility. Approach the situation with empathy. Put yourself in your constituents’ shoes to understand their anxiety. You will sometimes get it right, and you will often get it wrong, but it is still better to be as transparent as you can.
  • Customers / clients – Focus on empathy rather than trying to create selling opportunities. How can you add value and assist your customers?


Resilience is the ability to survive and thrive through unpredictable, changing, and potentially unfavourable events. It is in ordinary not extraordinary response to challenge that can be learned.

Resilient leaders:

  1. CONNECT: Make connections. Good relationships (family, friends, colleagues, pets) are crucial to replenishing resilience. Asking for and accepting help and support strengthens resilience. And protects your health.
  2. MANAGE STRONG FEELINGS: allow yourself to have feelings. But know how to manage them. You’re driving the bus, not the feelings. Numb yourself and you numb positive feelings and connections. Pay attention to your own needs and feelings and engage in activities that you enjoy and find relaxing. Exercise regularly. Taking care of yourself helps to keep your mind and body primed to deal with situations that require resilience.
  3. CHOOSE: Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems. Highly stressful events happen but we can change how we interpret and respond to them. Look beyond the present to how the future may be a little better.
  4. TAKE ACTION: Take decisive actions as much as you can. Detaching from problems and stresses and wishing they would just go away simply delays the inevitable. Avoidance and denial diminish resilience. Change leads to more change and problem focussed coping skills are needed to master change.
  5. TRUST YOURSELF: You’ve got this. Overcome negative scripts. Get help with this if needed. Nurture a positive view of yourself and your capacity to cope and ability to solve problems.
  6. ACCEPT WHAT IS: Change is a part of living. Certain goals may no longer be attainable due to adverse situations. Work on accepting what can’t be changed and focus on what you can.
  7. HELP OTHERS: Assisting others in their time of need also can benefit the helper and have protective health benefits.
  8. CONNECT HIGHER: be in nature, have a passion/cause/project as this helps you keep perspective. Try to consider a broader context and keep a long-term perspective.
  9. TAKE CARE: maintain self-care. Find out what stops you and allows you to relax physically and psychologically.
  10. BE PRESENT: use mindfulness techniques to ground yourself in the present moment, as this is the only place can actually make change.
  11. BE PART OF THE WIDER SOLUTIONAs a corporate citizen you should support others in your supply chain, industry, community, and local government. Consider how your business can contribute, be it in health care, communications, food, or some other domain. Focus on the intersection between acute social needs and your specific capabilities — in other words, live your purpose.

You’ve got this.

“The real antidote to epidemic is not segregation, but rather cooperation. In the fight against viruses, humanity needs to closely guard borders. But not the borders between countries. Rather, it needs to guard the border between the human world and the virus-sphere”. 

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