In summary

  • Dr Jon Hopwood explores the changes and challenges to the role of leaders brought about by COVID-19
  • Empathy, communication, tolerance, support for people and innovation are key skills required of leaders in crisis times
  • This video is part of Swinburne's Australian Graduate School of Entrepreneurship 'Ideas and Innovation' series

Dr Jon Hopwood, Swinburne Industry Fellow and Director of Social Agility, shares his insights for navigating leadership challenges during a crisis.

Navigating leadership challenges during a crisis

Let’s talk about leadership. In particular emerging leadership, especially in the current climate.

We all know that times are tough and uncertain. There’s even been an unprecedented spike in the use of the word ‘unprecedented’.

While senior leaders work at an executive level to adapt business strategy, it’s actually the ‘emerging leaders’ – or what we call the extended leaders – who are focused on supporting the on-the-ground teams. Emerging leaders are often viewed in any organisation as the glue. They act as the core interface between boardroom decision and tactical execution.

With that in mind, let’s look at some of the challenges facing emerging leaders during these tough times.

Challenge 1: Business as unusual 

We’re all adapting to new work practices. Teams are dealing with constant distractions. Anxieties over family and their own job roles. Working from home. It may be a while before we return to business as usual and we don’t really know what that will look like anyway.

This requires front line leadership to shift their skill base from knowledge to support. From checking up to just checking in. Empathy, communication and tolerance of extended deadlines become even more important valued leadership attributes in these times.

Challenge 2: Going down the rabbit hole

A natural reaction in leadership at all levels in crisis or stressful times is just to do more of what we’re good at. It seems like the right thing to do. We need to prove our value and lead by example. If we are leaders in technical roles we will just engineer more stuff. In finance roles, more numbers.

Paradoxically, this is precisely what we should avoid doing. By focusing on task-based activities we might miss the opportunity to engage in the true role of leadership – to support people as they go about their tasks. To create consistency out of the chaos.

Challenge 3: Mastering the switch

It’s likely that traditional ‘command and control’ leadership styles will not survive the age of the pandemic. Let’s be honest, their days were numbered anyway. Everything’s changed. Who would have thought we’d even be using terms like ‘flattening the curve’ for example?

As such, emerging leaders have a unique opportunity in the future to carve out an identity and relationship with work that we’ve never seen before. However, to do this, we must become ‘masters of the switch’. This will require us to embrace new ways of thinking, new ways of speaking, new ways of acting. Where we were once 20 per cent about people, 80 per cent about task, we need to flip this completely.

The future belongs to leaders with care, kindness and compassion.

Find out more about Swinburne’s Executive Development Program for Emerging Leaders.

This video is part of Swinburne’s Australian Graduate School of Entrepreneurship ‘Ideas and Innovation’ series.

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