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

How the world’s best teacher is changing lives in Africa

Member States and Commission to work together to boost artificial intelligence “made in Europe”

Nitrate pollution of water sources: new impulses for EU Water Policy?

Can indoor farming feed the world?

EU leaders agree on 2030 Climate and Energy Package: is “flexible” brave enough?

This German supermarket’s shelves are filled with food other stores won’t sell

This 3D-printed steak could help us reduce meat consumption

Biodiversity ‘fundamental’ for global food systems, at “heart’ of development – UN agriculture chief

LETTER FROM AFGHANISTAN: Elections serve up food for thought, for Afghan youth

This young scientist is tackling food insecurity for the world’s most vulnerable groups

Longer hours, more emails and shorter meetings – working from home in the time of COVID

‘Global care crisis’ set to affect 2.3 billion people warns UN labour agency

Civilians ‘continue to pay highest price’ in Ukraine conflict, with peace prospects losing ‘momentum’

3 things to know about our Sustainable Development Impact Summit

Trump’s Russophiles under investigation, Europe remains ‘en garde’

EU Parliament: The surplus countries must support growth

Eurozone at risk of home-made deflation and recession

‘Collective amnesia’ over causes of global financial crash – human rights expert

World ‘off track’ to meet most Sustainable Development Goals on hunger, food security and nutrition

Millions of Bangladeshi children at risk from climate crisis, warns UNICEF

Eurozone: The crisis hit countries are again subsidizing the German and French banks

Eurozone: Disinflation engulfs the industrial goods sector

A Sting Exclusive: “Leading by example! EU must push for UN deal to avoid dangerous climate change”, European Parliament Vice-President Ulrike Lunacek cries out from Brussels

Sweden is fighting loneliness by housing older and younger generations together

Keeping cool in the face of climate change

Mobile Technology in Nowadays Medical Practice: Is It a Safe Path?

“Working together to make a change at the COP 21 in Paris”, an article by Ambassador Yang of the Chinese Mission to EU

A jingoistic Spanish ‘war’ from the past

Security Union: political agreement on strengthened Schengen Information System

Leaders making these 5 key investments can shape an inclusive future

Over 330,000 Congolese migrants at risk after mass deportations from Angola – UN rights chief

An all-out fight for the EU budget

In Venezuela, Bachelet calls on Government to release prisoners, appeals for ‘bold steps towards compromise’

Colourism: How skin-tone bias affects racial equality at work

EU attempts to make new deal with Turkey as relations deteriorate

These countries create most of the world’s CO2 emissions

Will Europe be able to deal with the migration crisis alone if Turkey quits the pact?

Brexit: Six more months of political paralysis or a May-Corbyn compromise?

“The winner is who can accelerate the transition to a new digital era”. The Sting reports live from EBS 2015: a Digital Europe 4.0

UN global education envoy urges new funding for ‘lost generation’ of children forced out of classrooms by conflict

Where are the world’s nuclear weapons?

Will the EU ever tackle the migration crisis despite the lack of political will?

‘Dire consequences’ for a million children in the Middle East, North Africa, as funding dwindles

COP21 Breaking News_03 December: Unprecedented Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction to Combat Climate Change

Trade: First year of the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement shows growth in EU exports

Climate change: new rules agreed to determine which investments are green

Currency Union might not let an independent Scotland join the EU as the “Yes” front now leads

Data protection: Commission decides to refer Greece and Spain to the Court for not transposing EU law

The Cold War had an unintended side effect: It created a European wildlife paradise

Cholera surges, children in urgent need one month after Cyclone Idai slammed southern Africa – UNICEF

EU Emissions Trading System does not hurt firms’ profitability

How AI and satellite imaging can stamp out modern slavery

“A sustainable economy, low-carbon, resource-efficient, resilient and more competitive on the global stage”, EU Commissioner Vella in a Sting Exclusive

DR Congo: Ebola response resumes despite ‘risky environment’

Are Halloween pumpkins a problem for the planet?

Suicide Prevention: Using Graduation as a Transformative Tool

WHO reports ‘very strong progress’ in battling DR Congo Ebola outbreak

We need to give voice to ‘We the Peoples’, says UN chief

Medical deserts in the European Union: the practicalities of universal health coverage

Water scarcity is a growing problem across the Middle East. Is this how we solve it?

More Stings?


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