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Posted Nov. 1, 2021

What characterises a successful leader in a crisis?

NTU Online MBAThe corporate world has been flipped upside down by Covid-19. For many working in the field, surviving the epidemic will likely remain the most difficult challenge of their professional lives – and how we respond to and lead through such a crisis can determine whether a company survives or not.

“While an initial crisis may not be avoidable, the secondary crisis of a botched response is,” argues Eric J McNulty, Associate Director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative.

Success in leadership does not happen by accident. Businesses that responded promptly and successfully to the pandemic usually had a strong and capable CEO at the helm. Leadership is an ability that requires a wide range of skills and behaviours that enable someone to both lead and inspire those around them, particularly in times of uncertainty.

What does organisational leadership entail?

However, before we discuss crisis leadership, it’s vital to grasp what organisational leadership entails. It’s more than just being a team leader or manager. A strong leader needs to oversee an organisation’s direction and vision, as well as delivering a clear sense of purpose and driving strategic intent.

They need to consider market trends and environmental factors when assessing long-term opportunities and risks. They are accountable for establishing ethical, innovative, and supportive cultures that can deliver results through inclusive leadership. They are also a role model for people in top positions with major organisational responsibilities and significant organisational budget.

Covid-19 has cast a spotlight on both political and business leadership, both positive and negative. For example, the difference in leadership styles between Jacinda Ardern’s handling of the pandemic in New Zealand – which has been generally acclaimed – and Donald Trump’s response in the United States is evident.

Nottingham Trent UniversityLeadership & Covid-19

In a recent webinar titled “Leading through Covid-19”, Angela Enright, Online Tutor for the Online MBA at Nottingham Trent University (NTU), notes, “The differentiation here is about leadership behaviours rather than focusing on individuals to assign blame. Rather, we should consider their responsibilities.”

She continues, “Looking back on Jacinda’s achievement and the notion of leadership, it was all about ensuring the population’s public health. They were able to remove Covid-19 rapidly thanks to her activities and timely decision-making. Whereas with Trump, we've seen demonstrations and a lack of responsibility when it comes to wearing masks, both of which have had an influence on the amount of people affected.”

For businesses all throughout the world, the pandemic created an unparalleled crisis management scenario. Leaders in the commercial sector were held accountable to shareholders and employees, whereas those in the public sector were tasked with maintaining essential services and management of government budgets. Whilst some businesses and organisations managed to adapt, diversify and thrive, others, sadly, failed.

We’ve also felt the effects of leadership decisions within our own organisations, from allowing people to work from home where possible, to differing degrees of emotional and practical assistance. How these decisions are addressed and implemented at the executive level can make the difference between an organisation's success and failure, as well as have a substantial impact on employee well-being.

Effectively, a good leader is more than just a good decision maker. “How much of our opinion of a leader's performance is dependent on technical aptitude, talents, and expertise, and how much is connected to the leader's behaviours, how they interact? The impact of their decisions on individuals is equally important in determining their success,” explains Enright.

Crisis management

In a crisis, where others are turning to the senior leadership team for answers, the influence of leadership decisions and behaviours is exacerbated. Strategic leadership includes crisis management, risk assessments, and contingency planning, but it is not always possible to plan for every possibility.

Covid-19 is what is referred to as a ‘low chance / high impact scenario’ and therefore many organisations would have been caught off guard. Without contingency plans to follow, it is the core behaviours of the leadership team that are important in determining the way forward in such a scenario.

In a crisis situation, leaders must possess a number of qualities, and being able to deal with ambiguity and uncertainty is crucial. They must also have a realistic view of the company’s status and the ability to make difficult decisions. Building trusting connections with internal and external stakeholders, as well as optimism, is essential. It goes without saying that the capacity to lead and inspire is also essential.

With the advent of social media, how leaders are seen in the face of a crisis has become even more important. It is anticipated that you respond swiftly, empathically and with awareness. A leader must also be decisive and move fast when confronted with new information.

Maintaining high ethical and moral standards is also crucial to effective crisis leadership. “How leaders behave is an expression of their ideals,” Enright argues. “Covid-19 has pushed firms back to their core principles,” says Louise Pentland, Executive VP of PayPal and Hitachi. “In these circumstances, empathy and the humanitarian aspect of leadership are especially vital.”

Becoming a good leader

Being a good leader does not happen immediately; it is a skill that must be cultivated and fostered throughout the course of your career. As part of the Online MBA offered by NTU, students study a Professional Leadership and Development module which is specifically designed to develop leadership potential and teach students how to apply personal goals for organisational effect. This includes employing a variety of diagnostics to assist students in understanding their leadership personalities and helping them to develop the emotional intelligence required for successful self-leading as well as other the leadership of others.

“We assist students in thinking through their strengths and weaknesses, how they propose to work, what their values are, what they want to achieve, and how they are going to get there,” adds Enright.

Focusing on professional leadership and development will boost your effectiveness by changing your mentality and improving your decision-making approach, as well as your impact within a team – both digitally and in-person – which will have a beneficial impact on organisational effectiveness. If you want to be a leader in your field, the NTU Online MBA can help you develop the skills and knowledge you need to achieve your objectives. Ranked within the world’s top-50 online MBAs by QS 2021, the program is also offered with a Data Analytics specialisation, and both pathways are available to be studied part-time over two and a half years or as 18-month Fast Track options.

Please check the course information page or call the Online Admissions team on UK: 0800 032 1180 or International: +44 (0)115 941 8419 for additional information.

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