A World in Crisis: A Time When Authentic Leaders Can Have the Most Impact

We’ve heard the term ‘leader’ so often that its real meaning has lost its significance. Especially in today’s time where people with significant responsibility are far from fulfilling a leadership role. Look at what’s happening in the United States right now.

There are so-called leaders in sports, politics, business, and every arena in life, but are they true leaders? Do they inspire others with vision and purpose – or do people merely listen to their rhetoric – and dismiss it?

In today’s uncertainties, where normal routines have collapsed and everyday life is curtailed by the effects of the pandemic and the flagrant racism in the United States, many leaders around the world are proclaiming their visions (or opinions) on what steps to take for the future. Who really is emerging as a true leader?

Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Authentic Leaders Sail Steadily Ahead in Stormy Seas

Dagmar Meachem, in Turning Challenge Into Opportunity, notes that courage is an important part of leadership. He coined a contemporary definition of leadership:

“A great leader is someone who has influence and can effectively motivate a group to act towards achieving a common goal because they have mental and moral strength and will persevere and withstand danger despite their fears and the difficulty of the challenge.”

He follows with an important question: “Is this someone you’d like to work with or for? Is this someone you’d go the extra mile for?”

We can all nod in enthusiastic agreement: Yes!

Courage is an important part of leadership. Letting our authenticity shine, being willing to show vulnerability, takes courage. To take the road less traveled takes courage.

To think out of the box takes courage. And during these epic challenges thrust upon us by the pandemic and by the eruption of racism and the ensuing violence, we should ask often if we’re leading with courage, if we are leading with those values that are most important to us.

Courageous Leaders Are Willing to Take Risks

Bill George, writing in Forbes, explains leaders with courage take risks that often go against the norm of their organization. In other words, they’re not afraid to make bold moves in the name of their purpose and values.  By definition, he says courage is “the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear.”

Some leaders lack courage, George notes, because they’re too focused on numbers or reaching a particular mark or milestone. Leaders with courage forge ahead boldly – despite the risks. Take Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s prime minister, for instance.

An article in The Atlantic calls her leadership style empathetic, with public messages that are “clear, consistent, and somehow simultaneously sobering and soothing.”

39-year-old Ardern has cast aside conventional leadership methodologies, aligning with her own values instead. And as many leaders know, this takes a lot of courage.

It’s working – and not just on an emotional level. In a time of worldwide crisis, very few people in her country of over 4 million people have died from the ongoing pandemic.

Meachem, too, cites the importance of courage in leadership. Among many benefits, courage builds:

  • Powerful influence, since it takes courage to be honest and transparent with those we lead.
  • An atmosphere for productive, healthy conflict, where others feel comfortable challenging ideas and ways of thinking.
  • Deep accountability – courageous leaders don’t cast blame – they’re not afraid to call others (or themselves) out.

“The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change.

The leader adjusts the sails.”

-John Maxwell

Impactful Leaders Know the WHY

Children are infamous for asking questions incessantly. Many parents can relate to growing weary from their oft-repeated question, WHY?

It would be wise to remember those lessons from childhood. In a Harvard Business Review article by Nancy Duarte, we read that employees are much more motivated to accomplish a project when they truly understand the ‘why’ behind it.

“If they don’t know why a new action is necessary,” Duarte explains, “they won’t be motivated to help you.”

She gives an example of answering the “why” regarding the current COVID-19 crisis: “We can reduce secondary infection rates by 40%, saving thousands of lives.” In an instant, you have captured an audience and answered the critical “why” of a situation.

A common leadership trap is that we assume others know the “why” – when in reality it may not be abundantly clear to them. Duarte offers up a few helpful tips to identify the ‘why’:

-Ask thought-provoking questions.

-After questions, explain with “because” statements.

-Offer alternate aspects and explain why you dismissed them.

Don’t forget to include key benefits to support the “why” to get everyone motivated and on board.

Effective leadership is about art and scienceThinking – and Leading – Outside Your Comfort Zone

McKinsey & Company explains leaders should practice integrative awareness: being aware of the changing reality of the world and how to respond emotionally and physically. Now more than ever before, this is crucial as we adapt to historic change and a new way of living and leading.

During times of crisis, it would serve leaders well to be:

Calm, approaching fears as opportunities for learning

Optimistic, combining confidence and realism

Additionally, we need to practice integrative awareness, notes McKinsey & Company, citing Captain “Sully” Sullenberger who, after having two engines disabled by flocks of birds, calmly assessed the situation and then took action.

Even though air traffic controllers urged him to return to the airport, he sensed he could not make it back and chose to land his aircraft in the Hudson River – saving everyone on board.

Finding Balance Between Observation & Experience

Sullenberger balanced his emotions with a rational thought process, a practice termed metacognition. He had the internal awareness on two levels: not only was he observing the situation, he was experiencing it at the same time. He was able to sense early signs of fear – but did not act out a stress response. That, says McKinsey & Company, is vitally important in times of crisis.

“Without objective awareness, signals of distress can trigger “survival” behavior, and we lose the ability to pause, reflect, and decide. For a leader during crisis, this survival state can present a huge risk, and in the case of Captain Sullenberger, it would have been fatal.”

No one is immune to challenges. But it is our thoughts that determine how we perceive them.

A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity, an optimist sees  the opportunity in every difficulty.”

-Winston Churchill

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