Leading well in disrupted times

30 Mar 2020

Leading well in disrupted times

A crisis is the ultimate leadership challenge, so what are the qualities likely to be the most useful in a leader right now?

What the world is experiencing is disruption in its most extreme form. There is hardly any part of our lives that is not being impacted.

As we look at solutions, we know that technology will play a major role in solving this current epidemic. Artificial intelligence and high-performance computing deployed at scale are analysing vast data sets to find remedies for COVID-19 and drive social policy.

At the same time, technology is being used at an unprecedented scale as society adjusts to the new normal. Almost overnight, vast swaths of the population have dramatically altered working patterns. The way we communicate and collaborate has changed, arguably forever.

A new level of disruption

Before COVID19, the term disruption, particularly with regard to technology,  was largely seen as a positive force, challenging and changing how we do things, usually leading to better ways of working, living and consuming. But COVID-19 is a whole new level of disruption with few if any parallels in modern industrial history.

It is clearly a massive leadership challenge, perhaps not one seen since the world wars of the 20th Century.

So, what we do know about the qualities and attributes companies need most from their top leaders to manage in the face of adversity of whatever scale?

A measure of confidence in leadership

Odgers Berndtson recently undertook a global study to investigate the nature of leadership in a world of accelerating change, in association with Harvard Business Review Analytic Services.

We asked almost 2000 senior managers and executives at companies of all sizes around the world how confident they were that their company’s top leadership team could successfully navigate a world of ever-accelerating change.

It found that just 15% believe their top team would do well when facing change at scale.

Why some leaders cope better than others

Importantly, however, The Odgers Berndtson Leadership Confidence Index also identifies how specific leaders are coping – including those heading technology functions – and pinpoints the qualities and attributes companies need most from those in top roles to succeed in turbulent times.

Our work identifies three key traits as being essential in leaders who can successfully manage through disruption.

These are: a high degree of agility, open and consistent communication, and well-developed emotional intelligence.  

Importantly, these leaders must also show vision, purpose, and have the ability to attract, engage and retain talent.

Not only must they understand what’s needed across their teams, but also be able to work collaboratively, inspire and foster new ideas, and engage people across the organisation.

Responding well to an evolving situation

As politicians stand on the global stage in the face of extreme uncertainty, those managing it well, are, interestingly, demonstrating some of the capabilities we identified in a wider content.

They must be able to evolve strategy quickly, pivoting rapidly and regularly, as new challenges arise. In other words, be agile, whilst keeping communications channels open to ensure the general public is informed and broadly supportive to carry actions forward.

We are all in the early days of a new future for all, communities, companies and technology leaders alike, as we seek to chart a successful course out of this current crisis together.

Much remains unknown but, as our global study suggests, and history reminds us, the right brand of leadership for the times is always integral to success, no matter how steep the challenge.