As we endure the Covid 19 crisis, the spotlight is on leadership across all levels of society. During times of crisis, when we feel scared, we look to our leaders to deliver certainty, hope and a sense of community. Once again, Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand is viewed as the role model for compassionate and authentic leadership during a crisis. What can we learn from her? What does modern leadership look like?
Leadership is a balance between realism and optimism, between delivering certainty and hope. When a leader is seeking to stimulate behavioural change in others, whether that is working productively from home or social distancing, they have to positively influence how their people are thinking and feeling.
We view our leaders as the repositories of our fears and concerns. We want them to acknowledge how we are feeling. We want our leaders to tell us we will be ok and that there is a plan for navigating a way through the crisis. We seek certainty, even if that is just knowing that they stand with us. We also want them to trust us with the known facts.
“If we are in this together, trust is what binds us.”
Effective leaders trust their people with the truth of a situation because they are capable of handling the truth themselves. There is no credible leadership in any organisation or indeed country, without trust.
We don’t believe people we don’t trust, (just ask the boy who cried wolf.) At a time of crisis when we are asked to make sacrifices, (with many making the ultimate sacrifice) and to enter into a new social contract, we expect to be treated like adults and to hear the facts. When leaders trust their people with the reality of the situation, that trust is reflected back.
Qualities such as compassion and empathy had no place in the old hero model of leadership, in fact, they were anathema to that ego-driven, survival of the fittest mentality. Emotional Intelligence has a central role to play when it comes to compassionate leadership. Healthy doses of self-awareness, self-control, social awareness and an understanding of the basics of human psychology are key. If people know that you can see the world from their perspective, it fosters a feeling of trust and support.
We saw the images of Jacinda Ardern embodying respect and compassion with the bereaved communities following the terrorist shooting in Christchurch in March 2019 and again following the White Island volcanic eruption last December. In recent weeks she has hosted Facebook Live in a green sweatshirt having just put her daughter to bed, echoing the reality of parents juggling home life with Zoom conference calls.
In today’s interconnected and complex world, and in the midst of a crisis that has blazed across borders and upended daily life, no one person has all the answers. A modern leader knows they achieve with and through other people. Effective leaders create an environment and establish a context in which other capable individuals are willing and able to innovate a path through ever-changing and multifaceted challenges.
Today’s leaders are cultivators, stimulating, encouraging and challenging others to push forward creatively and consistently. If yesterday’s leader was the ship’s captain, the lead actor, the star striker, today’s leader is the navigator, the director, the coach.
“Modern leadership means replacing ego with empathy and the hero mentality with extending a helping hand.”
In the management bible ‘Good to Great’ by Jim Collins, first published almost twenty years ago, humility is referenced as a key differentiator between good and great leaders. Humility makes a leader relatable and approachable. In turn, the working environment is more human, as people feel safe to be open, to be proactive and to give their best.
What does humility look like? It means knowing your limitations and asking for help. Being open to the input of experts. Parking your ego to create an environment that fosters collaboration. A truly strong leader will admit when they make a mistake or when they don’t know something, thus retaining their credibility.
We will also listen more intently when they speak about what they do know. If ego-driven leadership won’t waste a good crisis, a compassionate leader speaks and acts with integrity, emphasising shared human values.
Of course, compassionate leadership is not just about the ‘touchy-feely’ stuff. The visible soft skills are matched with inner strength and deep intelligence. Modern leadership still encompasses skills such as an ability to balance big picture thinking, strategy and context setting, with an attention to detail and the ability to retain facts. Impactful leaders are proactive and quick to react to unforeseen events.
They have the courage to make tough decisions, the resilience to face criticism, that today is amplified by social media, and the fortitude to remain open to scrutiny.
Whilst some leaders try to look strong pounding a pulpit demanding walls to be built, inciting fear and division, Jacinda Ardern exudes warmth, inclusion and integrity built from an inner resolve. Compassionate leaders shine a light on us, so we can see the best in ourselves and others. This is critical in inspiring hope for a better future, that perpetual beacon of effective leadership.
If you enjoyed this post then why not read this other post on Modern Leadership and what it’s all about.
In Episode 30 of my podcast, I shared 10 distinctions of effective modern leadership, as well as the key question, that when asked and answered, goes to the heart of what modern leadership is all about. Listen to this episode here.
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