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Management Perspectives

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Management Perspectives

A lighthouse in a storm

by Girish Mainrai
Indian Management June 2021

The importance of leadership cannot be undermined in any situation or organisation. Leaders can guide the team to safety during a crisis. All they have to do is assure, empathise, build trust, and communicate.

The importance of leadership cannot be undermined in any situation or organisation.

The objectives of an organisation may differ depending upon the broad mission but its accomplishment requires effective leadership. Leadership plays an important role in unifying the personal aspirations of the employees with organisational objectives, for which, leaders need to play different roles—mentor, guide, crisis manager, change agent, etc. The Covid-19 pandemic has brought leadership in times of crisis to the fore. When things are not in order due to such turbulence, the role of the leader becomes even more important.

Unprecedented conditions demand extraordinary qualities from the leader to tide away from such crisis. Followers not only seek guidance, but also gauge the severity of the conditions through the behaviour of the leaders. Leaders’ stance at such times is crucial in allaying the confusion and anxiety of the followers.

The pandemic has challenged traditional wisdom concerning business as well as leadership qualities. Researchers have proposed different qualities for effective leadership. Covid-19 brought with it, a peculiar kind of situation—restriction in terms of mobility, presence, interaction, forced leaders to rethink and behave in a nascent manner. Management literature is filled with theories and traits of an effective leader but none speak about the adversity of such magnitude. I shall highlight few qualities which I consider necessary to be possessed by the leaders during such testing times.

  • Self-Assurance: In times of crisis, followers look for verbal and non-verbal cues from the leader and assess them while judging the severity of the crisis. Thus, we can say that the followers’s minds resonate with the feelings of the leader. Panicky behaviour exhibited by the leader will lead to fear and anxiety. So, the biggest virtue a leader should possess is self-assurance. This will allow the leader to focus and understand the magnitude of the crisis with more clarity. This quality is equally important during the execution phase too. Executing a strategy with conviction see the team participate wholeheartedly. Thus, self-assurance assumes greater significance when handling crises and implementing a road map for recovery.

  • Empathy: In a crisis where employees face challenges both on personal and professional fronts, it is essential for leaders to exhibit empathy. Empathy is not about being sympathetic but understanding another person’s perspective. A leader can understand the unique needs of an employee by stepping in his/her shoes. Decisions taken empathetically result in greater acceptance and appreciation. This also helps build trust.

  • Trust: Speaking of trust, it acts as a glue between the leader and his/her team, and thereby forms a bond. Rapid decision making and its execution is imperative for remedial action during a crisis. This can be achieved only when there is trust between the leader and the team. As employees have been working from remote locations on a greater scale than ever before trust has assumed great significance. It has played a dominant role in establishing rapport and building camaraderie in the team.

  • Communication: The role of communication in leadership is well known but its significance increases even more during times of crisis. A crisis is characterised by a phase of uncertainty where rumours spread like wildfire. This leads to anxiety. In such a case, effective communication can dispel these rumors and the clear confusion. It also helps in clarifying the rationale for undertaking corrective action. Strategies evolved through mutual communication aid in effective implementation and lead to greater acceptance by the followers. As bad as it is, a crisis can be an opportunity for leaders to show their mettle. The essence of the role of leader can be summed in the words of Martin Luther King Junior, who said “A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.”

Girish Mainrai is Chief Manager and Area Manager, Bank of India.

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