Has Covid-19 revealed the power of vulnerability in leadership?
April 20, 2020

Senior directors and CEOs have spoken of how the prime minister’s diagnosis made them take stock and reflect on their own vulnerability as human beings.

Leaders are under pressure to keep businesses and teams going. As part of this is an unwritten belief that they need to appear invincible. They see this as an aspect of maintaining trust and morale. However, the appearance of invincibility may no longer be an option. 

The situation revealed that knowing when to take a step back and practice self-care is as important for leaders as having the strength and will to keep going.

It can demonstrate vital leadership qualities and that a respect for health and wellbeing goes beyond mission statements and policy documents. It brings to life true business values and culture at a time when actions speak much louder than words.

Many organisations may not have prioritised planning for how to function if a senior team were to become ill, or for defining the leadership behaviours that would be most beneficial and effective at such times.

Economist and neuroscientist Louise Pollock provides leadership insights to support decision-making. Her article – Humans Need Leadership – examines our fundamental need for direction.

She highlights eight key questions to help teams plan how they will ensure consistency during a time of crisis that can afflict anyone. 

  • Do you have the right leadership team for this situation?
  • Can you co-opt key skills onto your leadership team to deal with the current situation?
  • Are your communications reflecting how you want people to experience you as a leader and in a way you want people to emulate?
  • Are you communicating frequently enough to reduce the stress within your teams?
  • Are you communicating about the points you ARE certain about?
  • Have you discovered information about the key issues your teams are most worried about?
  • Can you identify your unexpected future leaders who are stepping out of the shadows and surprising you with their positive response to a difficult situation?
  • As the leader, who are you supported by or able to get support from to get your dose of leadership that all humans seem to seek out?

Does the seriousness of Boris Johnson’s condition show that leaders must give themselves permission to slow down or take time off sooner? Knowing when to take time off – especially when in the face of a life-threatening illness – is not a sign of weakness. It sends a powerful message to their workforce and communities that self-care matters and that vulnerability can be strength.

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