'If leaders have a clear way forward, human beings are amazingly resilient'
Human nature can lead us to respond to adversity in two ways: by feeling helpless and seeing it as a threat, or by engaging it and seeing it as an opportunity for self-actualization, one expert explains.
Even in the midst of a global pandemic, people want to know how they can move forward – but they need a road map from their leaders.
While the COVID-19 crisis is indeed unlike any other, “there’s no need to start from scratch in trying to confront it,” says Dr. Jim Harter, chief scientist for Gallup’s workplace management practice.
Elements of effective leadership amid crisis
The advisory firm recently examined how people have responded to life-changing events in the past, from the Great Depression to World War II, from the 9/11 attacks to the 2008 financial crisis.
The findings show humans look for four elements in their leaders to survive adversity: trust, compassion, stability and hope.
“If leaders have a clear way forward, human beings are amazingly resilient,” Dr. Harter says. People turn to their leaders to “provide confidence that there is a way forward that they can contribute to.”
Gallup outlines five questions that managers can use to audit their own leadership approach and propel their business forward:
1. Do you provide workers with a clear plan of action?
2. Do your workers feel well-prepared to do their job?
3. Do supervisors keep direct reports informed about the crisis and response plan?
4. Does your organization care about employee well-being?
5. How often have workers been observing social distancing rules in the past 24 hours?
The questionnaire, Dr. Harter says, is built on actionable insights from past crises, which are believed to increase the four elements of effective leadership.
‘Going back to basics’
One key aspect, for instance, is how equipped employees are in adhering to business continuity plans. Gallup found only 54% of workers ‘strongly agree’ that they are well-suited to perform their tasks given the challenges of the pandemic.
“During high-stress times,” Dr. Harter says, “management approaches need to go back to the basics of clarifying expectations, reviewing material and equipment needs, and readjusting roles so that people can leverage their strengths in new ways.”
“Further, each employee needs to see how they fit into the bigger picture of the organization – its mission and purpose,” he adds.
Supervisors and managers also serve as “the key conduit, responsible for translating the organization’s response to COVID-19 for each employee,” Dr. Harter explains.
However, only 48% of workers ‘strongly’ believe their immediate supervisor gives them all the information they need regarding the company’s COVID-19 response plans.
“Only the direct manager can know each employee’s situation, keep them informed, and adjust expectations, coaching and accountability to inspire high performance,” he says.
Another important aspect of leadership in a time of crisis is how well managers look after the welfare of their employees, whether in terms of their career and community, or their social, financial and physical well-being.
“A key predictor of low worry and high confidence is whether each employee believes, and experiences, that the organization is looking out for their best interest,” Dr. Harter notes.
Despite this trend, only 45% of workers strongly believe that their leaders care about their welfare in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.