Chris Alexander

On Engineering

Leadership at all levels during the pandemic

22nd April, 2020

Just wanted to share this article from the New York Times last night, which is a discussion between columnist Thomas L. Friedman and leadership teacher Dov Seidman.

While it clearly does have political undercurrents for the current situation in the US, there are some really fascinating comments in there that apply equally to leadership at any level. I just wanted to call out some of those as they will be useful to everyone at the moment.

This even applies to those of us who don’t have authority through our placement in the org chart, but who can still be Leaders Without Titles - something I am reading about at the moment and will write up in a little while.

So here’s some of the key excerpts from the discussion (you should read it all though!)

Great leaders trust people with the truth.

If there’s one thing I’ve picked up on from the various books I’ve been reading and courses I’ve been taking, this is one of the most consistent and one of the most important. Truth goes hand-in-hand with trust and authenticity, key values to demonstrate.

The other important thing about truth is if you get caught not doing it once - your trust will be broken and that is very hard work to come back from.

The true antidote to fear is hope, not optimism. […] In addition to truth and hope, what people actually want in a leader, even a charismatic one, is humility.

This feeds into topics of expertise, and clearly is referencing to the US policital situation, but I think it applies more generally as well.

… after so many businesses put people ahead of their profits during this crisis, I hope many will see the wisdom of putting humanity at the center of their businesses in the future, too, with greater benefits for workers, the community and shareholders. […] that pivot will be anchored, hopefully, in deep human values — and then move in the new directions we’ll need in a post-pandemic world, where people’s expectations will have fundamentally changed.

This came up in a conversation I was having yesterday actually - having everyone work from home or isolated recently has demonstrated to a lot of businesses that it is possible. There will be a lot of chat when the lockdowns are lifted - do we really have to spend 1 hour or more of our days commuting backwards and forwards when I could do just the same work or even better from home? When I can take the dog out for a walk at lunch time or run through the countryside rather than take a walk in a polluted city?

What were your main takeaways from the piece? Any bits you disagreed with? And what changes do you expect in your workplace once the lockdown is lifted?