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Adaptive leadership key to navigating virus crisis


A crisis brings out the best in leaders. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the competency of organisational leadership. Few leaders saw it coming. The question to pose is, how can organisations cushion themselves from uncertainties?

The current crisis is different. It is not anything we’ve faced before. The pandemic looks to be a prolonged and possibly existential challenge for organisations. Leaders require creative mind to sustain the organisations.

Dynamic adjustments are required to meet the leaders own personal needs and those of the organisation and the workforce is key during critical incidents.

A manager’s adaptive capacity will translate into successful leadership. This could be called an almost magical ability to overcome adversity. Resilient leaders are needed in this pandemic crisis, who must respond and adjust to the circumstances across the organisation. The “new normal” will require leaders to prepare for a significant shift in setting priorities in their operations. The leaders will have to determine the core function of the organisation and focus on how the core function should continue. In an organisational setting, the core function carries the objectives of the organisation, and thus, operations will not be as usual. The leadership style which likely served the organisation well may need to be revised and adapted to this unprecedented crisis.

Leadership maximisation of effectiveness, to carry the organisations through the coming months under this uncertainty of the pandemic, should consider the following strategies:

1. Inclusiveness in decision -making

In most African organisations, decision making is a seclude of the senior management. Most of the times, the other employees in the organisation are hardly consulted. If they are, only on few issues. With the pandemic with us, and most likely bound to stay with us for a long time, leaders need to consult other organisational members.

This will save leaders from decision fatigue, which is the idea that the ability to make good decisions/choices deteriorates after an extended period of critical decision-making. This pandemic has come with prolonged stress and fatigue for leaders since the organisations are not performing as initially planned. Business performance culminates into a chain of other external players who are equally affected. This is most likely to put stress on the leaders that can affect their choice of judgment, strategic thinking and can cloud complex decisions due to rationality deterioration. Many leaders fail to accept the impact and cost of fatigue. With the attitude of most organisational leaders who believe that its only them who can make the decision “thinking whole” syndrome. They do not recognise that leadership in a crisis requires total and tireless engagement of the stakeholders for effective decisions. The implementers in any given organisation need to be consulted to give their views on the issues under discussion since they understand the huddles in undertaking the activities.

2. Diversity has never been more important for businesses, especially at this time.

In the modern global market, diversity is essential to generating innovative ideas, understanding local markets, and acquiring talent. Diverse teams enable more innovative and effective ideas and implementation. Going outside of the normal requires innovative thinking. A group utilises diverse perspectives to come up with unique conclusions. A group of need diverse skills to enable them craft new ideas that may lead to innovative progress. Creativity is diminished with groupthink associated with similarity. Diverse workforce may understand the demographics of the global market place which in turn may enable a firm to thrive in that marketplace. Organisations need local talent for local market whilst global market will equally require global demographics to add value to the their development strategy.

Technology diversity is crucial to reacting to competitive dynamics and uncertainties. Diversity enables strategic thinking and informed decision-making. Diversity in technology enables an organisation to have alternatives, in cases of crisis like what we have now. Looking at the situation as is, especially in universities, virtual learning is turning into a nightmare for most teaching staff. This is due to inadequate technology and knowledge thereof in terms of use of the said technology.

The business case for diversity is driven by the view that diversity brings substantial potential benefits that outweigh the organisational drawbacks and costs incurred.

Diversity leads to a deeper level of innovation and creativity, the ability to localise to new markets, and the ability to be adaptable through access to top-level talent pools and rapid decision -making.

3. Empower middle level managers

There are those who become decisive executive especially during this time of crisis. Those who believe can push the organisation ahead through the storm to safety (“I alone can do this”). No. Executive managers must eventually rely upon other level leaders, a middle- level management “deep bench” can be essential during sustained crisis management. The CEOs should remain the key voice setting the tone. Extended crisis events like Covid-19 are best served by decision-making processes that are consultative, rather than unilateral in style.

Make the deliberate decision to involve secondary leaders and middle managers to a greater degree than you would during normal operations. Recall that the old adage “people tend to support what they help to create” applies in a particularly meaningful way during a severe crisis. Do not strain the crisis management team

The “all hands on deck” approach talks of typical overburdening the “go-to” team. These are the high performers who work themselves to the point of burn out. Once stress and fatigue sets in, it tends to compromise their decision-making choices. The CEO’s need to adapt capacity and make sure tasks are dispersed for the preservation of energy.

Divide a crisis management team (CMT) into two or more teams. This will enable teams to work in shifts to sustain effectiveness over a prolonged crisis. It’s safe to say that most CMTs have not prepared for a pandemic of this proportion and impact. Your teams likely feel inadequately prepared or trained, increasing the likelihood of compromised team confidence.

Empowering teams through training opportunities and eliminating non-essential administrative tasks may preserve mental and emotional capacity.

A crisis brings out the best in leaders. They set aside trivial needs, solidify the organisation together for a shared purpose, and focus on helping others towards achieving the organisational goals. The strategic choices to be done in this instance are a focus on the core function of the organisation. This focus can be ignored due to the fear, uncertainty, and exhaustion that sets in organizations due to a crisis.

Leaders must re-adjust, enable a remote workforce, safeguard essential employees, and break bad and good news to employees, as well as maintain their own energy so that they can continue to inspire and motivate. At the end of it all, communication to the organisation community on what is happening is key. They need to know whether bad or good news.

The writer is lecturer of management, Catholic University of Eastern Africa.