Leading Through a Crisis: What are some Leadership Styles and Traits that may be Effective in Uncertain Times?

Leading Through a Crisis: What are some Leadership Styles and Traits that may be Effective in Uncertain Times?

During times of trouble, people look to their leaders more than ever before for guidance and reassurance – both professionally and personally.

COVID-19 has brought with it an increase in remote working for leaders to deal with, not to mention the more specific business challenges that this type of environment creates, such as changing business models, revenue targets and customer service, to name but a few.

However, leaders must lead.

Dr Alicia Stanway, leadership lecturer at AIB, says, “Leaders are in unique positions in a time of crisis as our followers are leaning on us for guidance.”

“The greater the uncertainty, the greater the expectations that our leaders will articulate a vision for the future. Confidence, however, can be found in the notion that our leaders are in positions because they can deliver. The skills they’ve stockpiled, the experiences of success and failing forward that they’ve accumulated over time all come into play.

When it comes to leadership theory, there’s no magic bullet. However, leaders can draw upon various leadership approaches, and adopt elements of each to lead in their own way.”

Transformational leadership

Initially pioneered by James McGregor Burns in the 1970s and then reconceptualised by Bernard Bass in the 80s, transformational leadership has become an influential framework in the field of leadership studies.

At its heart, it’s a collaborative process for mutual transformation, in which there are four orienting concepts – being, relating, knowing and doing – that assist us with how we consciously choose to lead.

There is some empirical research that argues this is an effective approach in turbulent times because transformational leaders consider themselves as change agents. They see the big picture, communicate effectively, and they leverage their emotional intelligence to keep followers driven by a compelling vision.

Authentic leadership

Authentic leadership is a powerful leadership approach during a time of crisis because of its strong moral component. In a time of uncertainty and insecurity people are looking for honest and transparent leadership. We want our leaders to be known for their character, substance and integrity, and we need to trust them to restore that strength once the crisis has passed.

Professor Bill George from Harvard Business School suggests five practices that demonstrate authentic leadership. Having a strong sense of purpose, knowing your values and not compromising on them, creating a sense of human connection, demonstrating consistent behaviors and compassion. This type of leader also creates a sense of human connection, demonstrating self-discipline and having predictability about your behavior and compassion.

Shared leadership

At its core, shared leadership is about the leadership team’s capabilities and leveraging off each skillset to allow a faster response to the changing climate, whilst remaining true to the organisation’s purpose and guiding principles.

A shared leadership model acknowledges that complex problems require different approaches and viewpoints, and one leader will not have all the answers.

Academic literature supports the use of this shared leadership as being even more so effective in these virtual environments.

Agile leadership

The benefits of being an agile leader extend beyond times of crises. Leaders who embody this style can roll with the punches. An agile organisation evolves and thrives in a rapidly changing environment, and in turn, an agile leader empowers and facilitates this.

AIB’s COO Jo Thomas reiterates this notion by saying, “It’s a time for bold thinking and action, not perfection.”

With this method, the emphasis stays with the customer, and they’re priority number one. Five telling trademarks of an agile organisation include:

  • Having a well-defined north star
  • A network of empowered teams that have the mindset of key responsibility and accountability
  • Rapid decision and learning cycles
  • A dynamic people model that ignites passion and next generation
  • Enabling technology to meet customer demands and remain competitive

The importance of values and strategy

As well as having a clear understanding of the styles of leadership that are going to be effective during a crisis, it’s vital for businesses to have anchored values and a well-communicated strategy. And regardless of how well you’ve communicated those in the past, it’s smart to revisit them – for the sake of your teams, as well as your clients and customers.

Paul Wappett, CEO of AIB, says, “We took the opportunity to reinforce our messages about why AIB exists and our purpose; what it is we stand for, and why we’ve made the strategic choices we’ve made.”

“It’s vital to have something that guides not only what you do, but why you do it. It helps everyone in the business to understand how their job contributes to the performance of the business, how the performance of the business contributes something positive to the world.”

With the AIB MBA, the first subject that every student learns is leadership, and this is a deliberate choice. There’s a real importance on great leadership, and from day one students develop this quality and it’s honed throughout the rest of their MBA journey. Find out more about our MBA and leadership course here.

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