Friday 4 September 2020

Leadership in Lockdown

I have been very interested to hear how leaders have been reacting to the COVID crisis and the strains it has placed on their organisations.  Two leaders, in particular, have interesting stories: one the CEO of a small charity, the other a leader of a significant health and education organisation.

The charity CEO did a few things that struck me as very impressive. Like many charities, their funding was extremely curtailed as many of their normal fundraising opportunities were closed down. The CEO's strategy was to take a dramatic paycut himself, to gather the team and ask them to consider what drop in pay they (individually) could afford to take for a while and then commit to that, to focus as many of the team as possible of grant-seeking/application activities; and (and this was particularly interesting) to reduce staffing by having all senior staff work two weeks on and two weeks off, in an overlapping pattern.  That resulted in a balanced approach that contrasted strongly with other organisations I know, where some staff were worked to exhaustion and beyond, whilst others were stuck at home unable to do anything - and both groups resenting the other... Then, they landed a large grant, and all were immediately reinstated to their previous pay levels, and the team's commitment and mutual solidarity is considerably enhanced.

The other leader expanded his leadership team, to include more and younger members, in the face of an overwhelming increase in demands for decisions and complexity of issues to consider. He delegated more than he has ever done before - he is the first to admit that he likes a hands-on leadership approach, and to know  what is going on; but that proved impossible. Team members really stepped up, and some of the younger ones in particular far exceeded his expectations. The wider community's trust in the leadership team was enhanced by their competent handling of the crisis, and the leader has now convened a team workshop to examine how and why they were so successful during the crisis, and how to take that learning forward. One of the lessons he knows that he has to apply is to maintain his new-found ability to delegate much more significantly, even though that is against his personal habits and preferences.

All of which raises the interesting question: how do we ensure that the lessons learned during this crisis are learned and shared widely, so that we get what good we can from it?


Thanks to Dylan Gillis and Nick Fewings for sharing their work on Unsplash.

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