3 leadership lessons from the age of coronavirus

coronavirus 2020 virus

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Harry Kretchmer, Senior Writer, Formative Content


  • Female leaders including New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern have provided strong leadership models during COVID-19.
  • It’s thought compassionate leadership can help sustain productivity gains.
  • Research also shows agile organizations have performed best during the pandemic.

COVID-19 has provided us with many lessons in crisis management. Many of the most successful leaders and companies have demonstrated strong people skills, pivoting their organizations by supporting employees and listening to what customers want.

Many of these lessons could help future-proof organizations for the uncertain road ahead. Here are three of the most important:

COVID-19 cases and deaths.
COVID-19 cases and deaths: Comparing female-led and male-led countries with similar populations
Image: VoxEU/Garikipati & Kambhampati

1. Lead with empathy and honesty

It has often been reported that nations led by women have handled the crisis well, particularly in the case of New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Indeed, many countries with female leaders have, so far, experienced lower death rates than their neighbours – compare Germany’s 11 deaths per 100,000 people to France’s 45 and the United Kingdom’s 70. But are women leaders really the reason?

Two economics professors who gave female-led countries a “nearest neighbour analysis” think so. Supriya Garikipati and Uma Kambhampati studied coronavirus cases and death rates, as well as variables including population size and spending on health, and found outcomes to be “systematically better” in countries led by women.

A key factor identified is that female-led countries locked down earlier. This could be, they speculate, because women leaders were more risk-averse about the impact of the virus on the population than men. They also say decisive and clear communication and participative leadership styles could have played a part.

It’s true not all countries led by women have had low death rates – Belgium’s is among the highest in the world. And comparing nations can be tricky. But there does seem to be a valuable leadership lesson here: empathy, warmth and transparency serve an important purpose – whomever they come from.

2. Be agile

‘Agility’ is everywhere in management guides. Harvard Business Review (HBR) says John Deere uses it to develop new machines, and National Public Radio makes programmes that way. So what exactly is agility?

HBR puts it this way: agile is about “taking people out of their functional silos and putting them in self-managed and customer-focused multidisciplinary teams.” In other words, it’s highly adaptable to the multiple and rapidly evolving demands of a crisis like COVID-19.

coronavirus, health, COVID19, pandemic

What is the World Economic Forum doing to manage emerging risks from COVID-19?

The first global pandemic in more than 100 years, COVID-19 has spread throughout the world at an unprecedented speed. At the time of writing, 4.5 million cases have been confirmed and more than 300,000 people have died due to the virus.

As countries seek to recover, some of the more long-term economic, business, environmental, societal and technological challenges and opportunities are just beginning to become visible.

To help all stakeholders – communities, governments, businesses and individuals understand the emerging risks and follow-on effects generated by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the World Economic Forum, in collaboration with Marsh and McLennan and Zurich Insurance Group, has launched its COVID-19 Risks Outlook: A Preliminary Mapping and its Implications – a companion for decision-makers, building on the Forum’s annual Global Risks Report.

The report reveals that the economic impact of COVID-19 is dominating companies’ risks perceptions.

Companies are invited to join the Forum’s work to help manage the identified emerging risks of COVID-19 across industries to shape a better future. Read the full COVID-19 Risks Outlook: A Preliminary Mapping and its Implications report here, and our impact story with further information.

But do agile models deliver? McKinsey analysed 25 companies that had recently undergone an agile transformation. Their agile units responded better to COVID-19 shocks than non-agile units based on customer satisfaction, employee engagement and operational performance.

The trouble is, leaders might be the ones holding back agile gains. HR consultant Mercer says while 78% of employees say they are ready to reskill, executives believe only 45% of their workforce can adapt. Mercer calls this a “mental block”. It also thinks agility will dominate management discussions this year as companies look to rebound and reinvent.

A caring culture
Image: HR Executive.com

3. Value your people

Businesses that have managed to ride out the COVID-19 storm need to ask themselves how they did it.

Sure, foresight and an agile mindset have been vital, but so has attending to the asset on which organizations are built – their people. Without them, nothing else is possible. Whether home-workers juggling childcare and Zoom calls, delivery drivers taking on extra shifts or nurses going to hospital despite the risks, people everywhere have stepped up.

Experts put this in different ways. UN Assistant Secretary-General Kanni Wignaraja calls on leaders to recognize that the pandemic means “everyone is having their own ups and downs”. British health think tank the King’s Fund urges compassionate leadership and says this means “paying attention to all staff, truly listening to them and being present with them.”

The best leaders have already been doing this, often using digital technology to improve communication. Chief Executive magazine advocates “weekly CEO webinars, daily team huddles, skip level calls and virtual happy hours” to create “people first” organizations.

Trust is also central. Before the pandemic, research by Mercer found that many companies didn’t trust their employees to work from home. But going forward, the OECD suggests organizations look to establish trust-based relationships with staff, in order to realize the potential productivity gains of home-working. Trust could speed the recovery.

the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Financial support for workers affected by no-deal Brexit

LGBTQ+ inclusion on the other side of the screen

“Our house is on fire.” 16 year-old Greta Thunberg wants action

EU Ambassadors in the EP: a multilateral approach to global challenges needed

The EU Commission does nothing about the food retailing oligopoly

EU car manufacturers worry about an FTA with Japan

3 charts that show how attitudes to climate science vary around the world

China Unlimited Special Report: at the heart of Beijing

Sanctions: Commission further expands Guidance on COVID-19-related humanitarian aid in sanctioned environments

Inaction on obesity stands in the way of sustainable development

Can we automate our way out of the savings crisis?

This Japanese politician is making history – by taking paternity leave

Scotland “shows the way” to separatist movements as Catalonia calls a vote on independence

Rude work emails are bad for your health and on the rise – here’s what you need to know

Gynecologic care in the 21st century

Deep chasm still divides Athens and Brussels; can Eurozone use the nuclear arm of liquidity against Greece?

Why transparency in drug pricing is more complicated than it seems

Violent disorder is on the rise. Is inequality to blame?

Is it just visa-free travel that Erdogan demands from the EU to not break the migration deal?

Horn of Africa: UN chief welcomes Djibouti agreement between Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia

The EU Commission is lying to the “Right2Water” campaign

How start-ups will lead India through the Fourth Industrial Revolution

How data can help mining companies tackle their trust deficit

The hottest new craze for German millennials? Gardening

Is Europe ready to cooperate with the rest of the world? Can Germany change its selfish policies?

2030 development agenda: Major breakthrough for world of work

GDP growth slows in most G20 economies in third quarter of 2019

UN experts warn Assange arrest exposes him to risk of serious human rights violations

12 ways the tech sector can help save the climate in 12 years

Artificial Intelligence raises ethical, policy challenges – UN expert

Emergency Trust Fund for Africa: EU mobilises almost €100 million to support the most vulnerable in the Horn of Africa

The role of junior entrepreneurs as a bridge between academia and business world

Altruism can be good for business, as these companies show

The Fourth Industrial Revolution must not leave farming behind

‘Rare but devastating’ tsunamis underscore need for better preparation, UN chief urges on World Day

Africa is launching the world’s largest free trade area – but these are the stumbling blocks

How fixing broken food systems can help us meet all the SDGs

‘Exercise restraint’ Guterres urges Sri Lankans, as political crisis deepens

Bankruptcy or referendum: which one is going to be first?

“We have to do a better job of creating alternatives to violent extremism”, US Secretary of State John Kerry from Switzerland; the Sting reports live from World Economic Forum 2015 in Davos

The 8 pieces of digital DNA we need to thrive in the AI age

What wealth managers can learn from family dynamics

EU to relocate 40,000 migrants across the bloc: first step of a long due substantial reform?

More than 750 million people around the world would migrate if they could

Chatterbox Rome Declaration cannot save the EU; Germany has to pay more to do that

Renewable energy can get India’s returned rural migrants back to work

Concern rising over fate of Rohingya refugees sent home by India: UNHCR

Youth leaders share positive visions of the future, as Guterres launches UN75 in New York

Brexit Update: EU endorses unprecedented compromise to help Cameron out of the referendum mess he got himself into

Cyprus tragedy reveals Eurozone’s arbitrary functioning

Stability in Europe has no chances because of Ukraine

European Confederation of Junior Enterprises hosts in Geneva the Junior Enterprise World Conference

What universities can learn about citizenship in the COVID-19 pandemic

Macron crowned king of Europe in Washington D.C.; just a working meeting with Trump for Merkel

How Islamic finance can build resilience to climate change

In Washington D.C., Guterres signs pact with World Bank, meets US President Trump

It’s not kids’ screen time you should worry about – it’s yours

Coronavirus: 23 new research projects to receive €128 million in EU funding

Prisons are failing. It’s time to find an alternative

Fighting Depression In the Isolation of COVID-19

More Stings?

Advertising

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s