The set of events brought by the Covid-19 pandemic have been a significant test for leaders. In a steadier environment, when objectives, roles and processes are mostly clear, there is infrastructure and guidelines that leaders can follow. But during what has been called a global crisis, experts argue, that it is no longer true. Which skills hence are most important for leaders in this uncertain and fast-moving environment? According to Patricia Carl, published author as well as philanthropist, it turns out that leading during crisis elevates four key skills above others. “Successful leaders are separating themselves by demonstrating these behaviours, which are proving invaluable as they steer their teams through the crisis and its resulting ambiguity,” she says. Agility Carl thinks that effective leaders recognise they won’t have all of the answers. They survey the landscape, gather available data and determine the best path forward. “During a crisis, the effective leaders don’t step back. They start to see things emerge — they pivot and lead through change, but at lightning speed.” She continues, “It’s also their ability to interpret; leaders have to be able to deal with ambiguity.” Consequently, Carl adds that the best leaders are able to adapt at the speed of change. They anticipate, try something, fail and fine-tune. “Agility is key — when you haven’t encountered something before, you need an experimentation mind-set.” Knowing that not every solution will work, strong leaders try something, learn from it and refine it. “We have to embrace failure, which is an important element of agility.” Communication In a crisis, there is danger of information overload. Good leaders can distil the most important information and present it with the right tone and frequency. This communication approach, she asserts, keeps people focused on what’s important and equips them with the knowledge they need to take action during uncertainty. “Leadership is changing. We can’t do things in person, which is significant — it can be very disruptive,” she writes, quoting Christopher Lind, global head of digital learning at GE Healthcare. “Communication, for example — it’s not a new skill, but leaders have assumed their communication is good because they physically interacted with people; they could rely on casual conversations when they bumped into people. Now, they must be intentional.” The flow of information from leaders helps their teams prioritise, carry out their responsibilities and adapt in real time. Being knowledgeable and having up-to-the-minute data enables teams to take action while formulating contingency plans and pivoting when necessary. Decision making In times of tremendous change, Carl says that leaders often have to make judgment calls. The future is murky, data is limited and they have to move quickly. While there can be a tendency in these situations to centralise control and adopt a high-directive management style, astute leaders recognise they will not have all the answers and must organise in way that allows for expedient decision-making by the people closest to the situation. The current speed of decision-making requires leaders to shift the way they make decisions and to take some risks. “Leaders who wait for answers to become clear or who adhere to a strict chain of command forego the benefits of their team’s creative thinking and may miss critical opportunities.” Empathy and connection According to Carl, leaders must deal with the emotional lives of their teams by demonstrating empathy and keeping them connected to one another and to the organisation. The company becomes an important source of community for workers, who may be now isolated from family and friends. Our work and personal lives have collided in a way that is unprecedented, and leaders have had a front row seat as their teams encountered the emotional and logistical hurdles of shelter-in-place policies. “We’re experiencing ‘empathy immersion’ — suddenly, we can see kids and dogs on work calls, we learn that spouses have been laid off, etc. Leaders who were goal-oriented suddenly get to know employees from what we see and hear in the background.” We are likely to see continued change throughout the next year or so. Leaders who are failing to adapt and are waiting for things to return to “normal” will find it challenging to evolve along with the environment. The leaders who leverage the attributes that enable their teams to adapt and grow through communication, connection and more distributed decision-making, on the other hand, will better harvest the opportunities that the environmental shifts present.