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How to Lead Through the Pandemic and the RECOVERY PHASE

By Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic

(Excerpted from AMA Quarterly Journal of the American Management Association. Spring 2021, Volume 7, Number 1.)

Among the wide range of fascinating insights from the 100-year-old science of leadership, perhaps none are as uncomfortable as the notion of a significant gap between the qualities that propel people into leadership roles and those that are actually needed to be an effective leader.

As I highlighted in my last book, Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders? (And How to Fix It) (Harvard Business Review, 2019), this gap also explains the pervasive gender imbalance in leadership: When we select leaders on the basis of their confidence, charisma, or power hunger, it should not surprise us that we end up with more male than female leaders. By the same token, these parameters explain why leaders are not typically known for their competence, humility, or integrity, and why narcissistic individuals over-index at the top of any organizational hierarchy or system.

If this was a problem before the pandemic, it is now a disturbing reality, one that accounts for the widespread leadership failures around the globe. Too many leaders are out of depth, exposed, and have nowhere to hide. As I observed in my March 15, 2020 article in Forbes, “Why Are Some Leaders Better at Managing a Crisis?”, while many of the key features of the pandemic are not as “unprecedented” as most people think—so yes, the word has been overused in unprecedented ways—there is surely one unique aspect to this crisis: It is a global leadership experiment like we have never seen before. Leaders around the world are being put through the same test, with unparalleled access to the same standardized KPIs, and the world is watching closely.

Furthermore, since we have never dealt with this virus before, let alone a digital-age pandemic, it has been largely impossible for leaders to rely on their past performance and expertise to mitigate this crisis. Instead, every leader has had to start from scratch, with a blank slate, and work out how best to mitigate the damaging consequences of this devastating virus.

Crisis leadership is just good leadership. There is a long tradition of research around crisis management, which has identified some of the decisive traits and behaviors to predict how some leaders are much better able to manage crises than others. In my talk at the Global Leadership Network’s event in August 2020, “Six Traits Leaders Typically Lack During Crisis,” I outlined that higher levels of intelligence, curiosity, humility, resilience, empathy, and integrity are all critical to improve leaders’ performance during a crisis. And as it turns out, these traits also elevate leaders’ performance during good times—that is, when there is not a crisis. But in a crisis, leadership matters even more: Leaders’ right and wrong decisions will exacerbate effects on their followers, raising the stakes to a matter of life and death. So , while mediocre leaders may go unnoticed in good times, we pay a high price for leadership incompetence when the challenge is big.

In a world where leadership and management roles were assigned on the basis of competence, most people would trust their boss and be inspired by them. Instead, the average experience people have with their bosses is rather more discouraging, if not traumatic. And we continue to see reports of toxic leaders who derail and whose dark side keeps harming their teams and organizations.

Destructive leadership was rampant before the pandemic, and science-based tools could do much to mitigate it. We’ve all heard it many times: Crises are opportunities to change, as well as traumatic periods of transition where the old is not ready to die, and the new is not ready to emerge. Our big hope is that our old and outdated leadership archetypes, and our tendency to select people based on style rather than substance or confidence rather than competence, will die or at least fade away with this crisis. That way, we can look forward to a future where our lives are not put in the hands of those who are in it for themselves, or have no capacity to make things better for us, but rather are smart, kind, and honest leaders.

This article has been excerpted from AMA Quarterly Journal of the American Management Association. Spring 2021, Volume 7, Number 1. AMA Quarterly Spring 2021

About the Author:

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is the chief talent scientist at ManpowerGroup, a professor of business psychology at University College London and at Columbia University, and an associate at Harvard’s Entrepreneurial Finance Lab.

For more information about AMA Management and Leadership courses, click here.

AMA Women’s Leadership Center

AMA Certified Professional in Management™

Last updated: 02 Aug 2021

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