Arguably organisational leadership has never been more important. Your organisation has been through the most significant challenge it has perhaps ever experienced. Your services have been stretched to the limit. Some of your colleagues may have been seriously ill or died or lost a loved one.
Your customers have been impacted in terms of access to your services, struggling with a reduced or no income, dealing with physical and mental health issues, stuck in small homes with children, or alone and vulnerable in some way.
Many have been traumatised by their experiences and will need considerable care to readjust and rebalance. It is almost impossible to assess the full range of psychological impacts that COVID-19 has had on individuals and will continue to have for years to come.
It could be decades perhaps before we fully understand the depth and breadth of individual and collective experience and the longer-term outcomes from this at global, national, regional, community, organisational and family levels. As a result, there can be no doubt that COVID-19 will require a different kind of leadership than perhaps we have known or needed before.
Many of us will return to a job and a lifestyle that almost picks up where we left off and may quickly return to a familiar routine. Some will not as they find that lockdown extends an impact into their working patterns and methods. Some may have had such life-changing experiences, for example, losing a partner, that they make different choices to move forward with their life.
Organisationally, there may be a need to move people perhaps from team to team to cover for service areas that require attention to get back on track: collecting rent arrears as an example. There may be vacancies to fill in the short term. Longer term, the impact at a strategic level must be assessed and considered against the business plan. Financial viability and regulatory requirements will need to be met. It is likely more change will follow and this could be very difficult for some people to accept and respond to positively. Many will need to feel a sense of stability for some time to come.
It is also likely that leaders and managers at all levels will resume their previous leadership style. Being back in familiar surroundings, not needing to work virtually all the time, physically being with people, will be a draw for many who will have found this period of home-working, or no working, challenging. There are many reasons to have found this challenging on a daily basis, around some very core human issues such as health, safety, money, family, home, freedom, choice and so on.
People’s experience during the corona virus outbreak and lockdown will have impacted them in different ways. Some may have flourished, risen to the challenge, used the time well for themselves. Others may have struggled deeply with their mental, physical or emotional health. It is going to take some time to understand how we are when we go back to work and it would be dangerous to assume that people are as they were, behave as they did, think or feel as they did, value or prioritise the same things as previously.
But we all have the same basic human needs and these have been challenged significantly in perhaps the entire population in some way, and in many cases, profoundly.
What leaders need to do now, how they can best not only respond, lead the organisation to regroup and lead through change in terms of readjustment, may not be what was needed previously. It is not safe to assume leaders can pick up with growth plans, service reviews, office moves, restructures, new services, changes in governance arrangements, mergers and so on, and take people with them to deliver and perform.
Now is the time to take a step back, recognise the period of crisis leadership has come to an end, and into the leadership approach that is needed for the next phase. Each organisation will be different, according to your context, as well as share similar themes with others.
What needs to be different for you as a leader in your organisation?