COVID-19 is the great challenge of our time, forcing schools and businesses to close and overloading our hospitals. Faced with such unprecedented issues, many in society may feel lost. Where can we turn for guidance when the news is dire, and our homes are seemingly the only safe spaces we have?
I have always felt that leaders show their true colors when faced with challenges. It’s easy to lead when everything looks green, but in that proverbial darkest hour, the best leaders make themselves known. In recent weeks, several bloggers and journalists have shared traits of quality leaders. Today, I want to highlight several of those qualities and explain their relevance in today’s world.
We can argue back and forth on the most important quality for a leader, but in times of strife, empathy earns a high rank. Empathy surfaces in a multitude of ways. It can be empathy for a team member who has been impacted by coronavirus; it can be empathy for a neighbor who lost their job due to the closure of an institution; it could even be empathy for the students and families displaced from schools and offices, struggling to pick up the pieces and continue that work from home. Forbes contributor and entrepreneur John Hall puts it well when he writes, “Great leaders have empathy. They realize that going through hard times makes people stronger, and they encourage those people to push on.”
That’s not to say great leaders expect others to remain positive throughout hardships. In addition to staying positive themselves, leaders must lend listening ears and comforting words to the people who need them most. As anxiety, fear, and even misinformation run rampant, leaders should offer level heads and realistic-yet-optimistic perspectives.
Employees and followers naturally look to leaders when troubles arise. While navigating storms is not a one-person job, someone must stand at the helm of the ship with knowledge of where they’re going and how best to get there. If a leader crumbles under the pressure of that role, then that leader is not equipped to handle significant crises. This is not necessarily a sign that they are an ineffective leader. In reality, it demonstrates the need for that leader to develop their focus and remain vigilant.
With so many complications impacting our baseline infrastructure, it is challenging to keep our organizations moving forward. However, as leaders, we must turn that end-goal into a mantra and use our resources to carve out new paths towards success. In the education realm, the primary focus of teachers and other school personnel is to provide students with the best quality education possible. With this in mind, leaders can more effectively navigate these turbulent times and provide excellent instruction.
Leaders who have mastered focus can apply that knowledge to the all-important skill of adaptability. Constraints often accompany periods of difficulty. Many of those constraints directly impact the financial and hands-on resources at an organization’s disposal. As these constraints weigh the organization down, everyday operations and once-reliable strategies become obsolete.
In the military, a common saying is that battle plans do not often survive first contact with the enemy. As conditions and variables change, so too must the strategies used to meet important goals and targets. For educational leaders, with a charge to ensure all students learn at high levels, there has never been a greater need to demonstrate flexibility and adaptability with schools being closed and learning needing to continue. Maximizing all available resources and supporting teachers who are having to shift their entire instructional practice will demand empathy, focus, and flexibility to serve our nation’s children.